Tag Archives: Writing

Some People Are Women, Others Are Men, and it’s Getting Hard to Talk About

gender identity male female

(Image/Angelus News)

My most popular articles tell true stories about my failed marriage and also tend to include a bunch of my own assumptions about “typical” male-female relationships.

Because of things I’ve experienced, observed, read, and heard about, I perceive there to be common male behaviors and common female behaviors, and sometimes when writing relationship stories—I will say things like: “Husbands often do this… and wives often do this other thing.”

I do it throughout the oft-read Open Letter to Shitty Husbands posts, and this very gender-oriented way of storytelling—for better or worse—is featured prominently in the only thing I’ve written that has been read millions of times: She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink.

I am a straight, white male who was raised in a small Ohio town, and totally immersed—from birth through high school—in conservative politics and what some people like to call “traditional Christian values.”

I used to think it was all very good. Common. Normal. The majority.

I always found comfort in being part of the “majority.” If MOST people believed something, then that must mean that believing that is good. The right thing to do. I am part of the group that is “most correct,” I reasoned.

Of course, I didn’t have access to any sort of data that could reliably tell me what “most” people thought, believed, felt or did, anyway. Nor was I wise enough to even ask the question. SO MANY people were “like me” where I come from that it never occurred to me to question things I was taught or any of the common beliefs of the people who lived where I lived.

Things are much different now.

I don’t live in a place where groupthink is as prevalent as it was for me growing up.

At 38, on the heels of my divorce that forced me to rethink everything I have ever done or believed, today I’m much better about questioning information I come across.

I always want to know WHY. Every one of our beliefs should have a WHY behind it. A REASON. There’s great danger in a bunch of people who believe things but can’t provide an explanation for WHY.

I’m less certain today about the things I think and feel.

Uncertainty isn’t comfortable. Uncertainty probably isn’t very attractive. But it damn sure reduces your asshole quotient. Since no one can know all things, behaving with certainty means you’re totally wrong (and a huge asshole) at least some of the time.

I don’t assume I’m correct about everything, but I always have a REASON for how I came to a belief, and if I discover that my reason for a belief is bullshit, I’m not afraid to abandon it in favor of a better idea.

I’ve learned to embrace the philosophy of Letting the Best Idea Win.

In every conversation, debate or argument between me and someone else with conflicting ideas, there can be only three possibilities:

  1. I’m right.
  2. I’m wrong.
  3. There is no objectively correct answer.

Many people behave in debates as if winning or losing are the only two outcomes. I tend to think everyone loses most of the time. I don’t think “being wrong” is the same thing as losing. Here’s why:

  1. If I’m right, I get to share a better or important idea with the person I’m talking to.
  2. If I’m wrong, I get to learn a better or important idea from the person I’m talking to, and stop believing something that’s untrue, harmful, or otherwise moronic.
  3. If there’s no objectively correct answer, fair-minded and reasonable people can always conclude that an individual’s life experiences shapes their beliefs, and that ANYONE who lived an identical life would have drawn an identical conclusion.

Is it Wrong or Dangerous to Identify Gender-Based Stereotypes in Stories Designed to Help People Improve Their Relationships?

A bunch of people (who might be correct) think I’m a complete idiot douchebag because of what they perceive to be cavalier use of “gendered” descriptors for human behavior.

If you also think I’m an idiot douchebag, you’ll take great joy in reading this MetaFilter thread about the “dishes” post that went viral in 2016.

It’s offensive for some men who are awesome about keeping their house clean, and mindfully comforting their romantic partners, and expertly managing their children’s many needs to read me write the equivalent of “Men are often thoughtless and selfish, dumping a bunch of housework on their wives, which inevitably causes wives to resent their husbands and eventually leave them.”

It’s offensive for some women who are sensitive about gender-based stereotyping of any kind to see it being done. The female experience for them has been one of being shoehorned into certain roles and stereotypes for no other reason than their gender. Women are still sometimes referred to as “minorities,” even though the human sex ratio is essentially 1:1 in almost every country and culture on earth.

I get this. Totally. I don’t like people labeling or telling me who I am either.

And I absolutely understand that this type of stereotyping and generalizing has categorically marginalized huge groups of people through the generations, because of their skin color, gender, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, etc.

“Marginalized” is probably too soft a word for some of the atrocities people have experienced at the hands of the “majority.”

However, I can’t stop asking this question:

While gender-based stereotyping might seem ignorant or misguided to people whose life experiences were much different than mine, is it WRONG or BAD for me to make the observation that “Men often do this, and women often do something else”?

There is no malice intended in my observations that men frequently demonstrate a lack of awareness and empathy in their conversations and behavior at home with their wives. I honestly believe this is the most common scenario. That this is true most often.

There is no malice intended in my observations that women frequently feel sad, abandoned and afraid—and later, resentful—in their marriages because of this common male lack of awareness and empathy.

I am not judging men. I don’t believe women are better than men. But I do believe that women frequently demonstrate superior relationship skills to men like emotional intelligence, empathy, efforts to communicate, and stronger home- and child-management skills as mothers.

I believe that’s true. That doesn’t make anyone good or bad. It simply makes me correct or incorrect—and I honestly don’t know which I am in this case. This is what I think. Not what I know.

I am certainly not judging women. I don’t believe men are better than women, particularly in the context of male-female romantic relationships in cohabitation, marriage, or parenting. But I do believe that men are frequently innocent of intentional wrongdoing in their troubled relationships. That they are predominantly good men with good intentions who honestly love their wives and families, but mindless do or do not do things that hurt their wives, and often results in painful break-ups and divorce.

I believe this is true.

I believe anyone can look around and see this for themselves in their own families, and neighborhoods, and workplaces, and religious or social groups, and among the professional relationship therapists who have spent years listening to the same kinds of stories I tell, and who hear all of the same stories I get in my email inbox and in these blog comments.

Another Viral Example: ‘You Should’ve Asked’

Someone awesome and clever created a comic that I believe encapsulates the spirit of several of my posts like the “dishes by the sink” one, or how making your wife or girlfriend feel like your mom by managing your life and cleaning up after you all the time is a common recipe for the death of sexual attraction, and often, the relationship.

This excellent piece called “You Should’ve Asked” is a must-read.

I think the creator (her name is Emma) did an incredible job of capturing this Common Relationship dynamic I’m always going for, but I think she did a better job than I do of not assigning blame or shaming anyone in the process.

I was struck by how many people criticized the piece because they perceived it to unfairly stereotype genders in much the same way people have criticized me.

Does content like “She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink” and “You Should’ve Asked” cause more harm than good by being too gender-focused? Or do they do more good than harm by raising awareness to relationship issues so common that millions of people read and share them?

I am a guy. Because of this, I write for guys and feel comfortable talking about “guy things” in the same way I perceive them to be true. I don’t pretend to understand what women experience outside of the many books, conversations and stories I’ve read or heard.

I was a husband. Because of this, I write about husbands.

I write stories that I hope resonate with many people, and I don’t know how to do that without describing situations I believe to be most common—most statistically likely to have been true for the average reader.

But, if this isn’t obvious to you already, I believe sexism—which I hope is mostly unintentional—plays a prominent role in the fundamental breakdown of the common marriage, as I tend to describe it.

I defend my stereotyping (right or wrong) because I am rarely making value judgments about men and women.

I think it’s fair and reasonable to identify things as being DIFFERENT, without the underlying assumption that one is better than another. Equality is NOT “Everyone’s the same!” Equality is “Everyone has equal value.”

And I believe that strongly. That all people have equal value, regardless of how many differences we can identify. 

I think, whether it be because of cultural conditioning and exposure to mass media or something else entirely, that men frequently demonstrate behaviors common to most males, and that women frequently demonstrate behaviors common to most females.

I don’t know why this happens, though I have foolishly suggested that evolutionary science might have something to do with it because I’m an idiot who occasionally talks out of his ass.

But I think it’s less foolish to observe things that happen around us, and then use those observations in stories designed to hopefully help people discover something important about themselves, about their partners, and about their relationships that might otherwise deteriorate and end painfully without that story resonating with them. Without stories that feel a lot like their own experiences.

Sometimes people see themselves in the words, and everything changes for them. Sometimes kids don’t have to move between houses and cry. Sometimes two really good people who honestly love each other don’t spend years accidentally damaging one another’s hearts and minds, because they finally SEE what’s really happening.

I want to believe that the stories told here have done more good than bad.

If there’s a way for me to do more good and less bad, I also want to know that.

But this criticism and question needs dealt with.

No matter how “common” it may seem to me or anyone else. No matter how easy it is for me to justify using a Mars/Venus backdrop to relationship stories. No matter ANYTHING else: Do we hurt others, and ultimately cause more harm than good when we use words that categorize or label or attempt to define a group of people because they’re connected by a shared trait?

I don’t know.

But if I can do better, I must.

If we can do better, we must.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What’s Next For MBTTTR?

metamorphosis

(Image/The Bridge)

“Shit or get off the pot,” is a fairly common idiom where I’m from.

Aside from evoking troubling images of Jesuit standoffs and triggering my (somewhat exaggerated, but totally real) bathroom-related phobias, it translates loosely to “Make a decision, you mook!” or “Start actually doing the things you keep saying you want to do!”

It’s also one of those times where it’s more okay than usual to write or say bad words. #smallwins

This blog has been a great project for me since drunkenly posting my first amidst my darkest days as a human being 40 months ago.

But we need to get serious about next steps. It’s time.

I hope you’ll help.

I want to do and be more than some random idiot writing the same stories using different metaphors over and over again on his blog.

The conversations we have here about marriage and human relationships matter. Maybe more than anything.

We all have our own individual goals and interests and dreams and pursuits. Things we chase, perhaps because we believe there will be some great sense of reward, happiness and forever-satisfaction if we ever get around to capturing it.

But no matter what is going on in our lives—no matter how wealthy, or accomplished, or “successful” we are in those individual pursuits—the quality of our human relationships is the most influential factor in how good or bad our lives are.

When we have conflict with those we’re closest to—spouses, partners, siblings, parents, children, friends, co-workers—life can get unpleasant in a hurry.

Only deteriorating health can affect us more profoundly, but even in a worst-case scenario, the unhealthy person who loves and feels loved can speak honestly about a life well lived in ways physically healthy people with crappy relationships cannot.

This. Stuff. Matters.

What Do You Want?

People ask me for books.

People ask me for coaching.

People ask me for membership forums.

People ask me for video content.

People ask me to speak to groups.

It remains difficult for me to wrap my head around that. I still think of myself as little more than some idiot blogger.

And I’m mostly right about that. I AM mostly just an idiot blogger. But for the right people, I’m something else too.

I am—for the right people—able to communicate concepts they’ve been unable to communicate in their biggest life problem regarding the things and people they care most about. Their marriages. Their families. Their close personal relationships.

Their very way of life is threatened by the brokenness that creeps in sneakily through the years, poisoning our hearts and minds, further damaging our already-shitty translators so that we can’t understand each other, adding anxiety, fear, shame, guilt, depression, cynicism and apathy to our already-heavy loads.

It’s terrifying when you feel doom coming.

It cripples you when the bombs finally drop.

There is no amount of money, material wealth, fame or “success,” that can help broken humans wake up in the morning happy to be alive when EVERYTHING hurts. People try to numb it with alcohol or drugs. Distract from it with escapism or sex. But there’s nowhere to run.

It follows us. Tries to consume us. Tries to kill us.

Until we unbreak.

There are many brilliant and scholarly people out there who fundamentally understand what it takes to heal the broken. People who are smarter and know more than I ever will.

But—and this applies to every husband, wife, person in an argument, politician, lobbyist, etc. who has ever lived—how much does it matter how true or right what you’re saying is if no one ever listens anyway?

My gift or purpose or value seems to be my ability to frame relationship problems in ways that resonate with people.

So, even if I never bring any good ideas to the table, if my ability to effectively communicate important concepts to the right people can be the difference between a family or marriage staying together and thriving, or breaking and creating life-long regrets, then—no matter what—I have something to offer.

I really care about the things I write here. It breaks my heart to see or hear about children crying as they wave goodbye to one of their parents. More than three years later, it still breaks my heart to wave goodbye to mine.

So, What’s Next?

I must decide. We must decide.

I think it makes sense for me to eventually transition Must Be This Tall To Ride into a multi-contributor publication. I think it makes sense for me to build out my own site, where perhaps I can combine my passion for these subjects and desire to help into something tangible that actually CAN help.

It seemed asinine to me to position myself as any sort of relationship expert or fake-ass therapist. That’s not what I am.

I am, for lack of better terms, a translator. An explainer. A decent question-asker.

And perhaps there’s a place for someone like that to work more directly with humans trying to find their way through difficulty, or who want to avoid it altogether.

I want to collaborate with others to create content of lasting value. I want to write books. And have conversations. I want to discuss the formulation of programs and curriculum developed by the appropriate thought leaders, tailored for the appropriate audiences and executed in ways that create fundamental, paradigm-shifting change in the way people think about their human relationships.

People are afraid, sad, angry, broken, and the thing that can help heal those wounds most effectively is the simple realization that we’re not alone. That others are fighting the same battles.

My story is your story.

People don’t read this stuff because they care very much about things that happened to me.

People read this stuff because it connects with them on a deeply personal level, and because things I thought, felt or experienced are the same types of things they think, feel and experience.

It was never about me. It was always about them.

All of this, if it ever has the chance to matter, must be about you.

Please help me take this thing somewhere where good things can happen. Good must spread.

It must.

If you care about the things we talk about here, I hope you’ll share any ideas or suggestions you have about evolving into whatever comes next.

Thanks, everyone.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

We Interrupt This Broadcast

interrupt this broadcast

 

Hey guys.

I’ve never written a Purpose Statement for MBTTTR, but if I ever do, I imagine it will be something close to this:

To use honest storytelling as a tool to help people achieve healthy, lasting relationships by raising awareness of uncomfortable truths regarding the things commonly causing divorce and human conflict. To courageously demonstrate personal accountability with hope that others will too. To challenge the status quo. To fight for people, all of whom have intrinsic, immeasurable value and are capable of intensely heroic, beautiful and inspiring things. To encourage men to be great. To encourage all to choose hope.

A Peek Into My Life

I’m just one guy. Divorced with a shared-parenting agreement. I’m 37, but you’d never know it from my behavior patterns.

I’m looking around at piles of papers and unopened mail and unread books on my kitchen counter. There’s a frying pan on my stove top that I didn’t clean after cooking breakfast for my son and I yesterday.

We had a Cleveland Indians-themed (Go Tribe!) casual day at work Friday and I waited until that morning to hunt around my house for the Indians hoodie I wanted to wear. I couldn’t find it, until I went down into my basement laundry room and realized it was one of three sweatshirts matted down and covered in cat hair because my old pet cat Eli used to lay there all the time.

And that would be all well and good except that Eli died the day before Thanksgiving LAST YEAR.

I wake up in the morning and I go to a job for more than 40 hours per week. At that job, I have many meetings and things to do.

Additionally, I am a partner in a young digital marketing agency which we started last year, and is now officially the thing taking most of my time.

I have a little boy at home with me 50 percent of nights and weekends. A child who has homework assignments, food and clothing and bathing needs. A child who needs lunches packed, haircuts, and new clothes.

During the rare moments we are not doing things we MUST do, he craves his father’s attention very much.

My life is:

  • Wake up.
  • Go to work to pay for house, vehicle, child needs.
  • Build business in effort to create more flexible lifestyle.
  • Write here, when possible.
  • Repeat.

Things like grocery shopping, lawn mowing, house cleaning, and laundry steal time from these things. Traveling steals time from these things. The now-ultra-rare social/family event steals time from these things.

I want no sympathy. I choose to have a full-time job. I choose to grow my side business. I choose to write here.

If I want things to change, I’m responsible for making different choices. (The idea is that once my agency is my full-time work, some of these time constraints will vanish.)

This is not meant to convey that anyone should feel sorry for me. Not by a long shot.

It is meant to help you understand a little more what my life looks like.

Which brings us to…

The Comments-Section Shit Show

I do not possess the powers of omnipresence.

I don’t even possess the powers of people with average attentiveness skills.

I am a highly disorganized ADHD-diagnosed, divorced single dad who is NEVER caught up. With anything. Ever.

What that means is, I don’t see each and every comment that comes into this blog. And when I DO see comments, I am mostly seeing them out of context on my phone’s WordPress mobile app. It’s a back-end admin tool, and things don’t look anything like what they do when seeing them on your computer or phone.

So, if you read something and think to yourself: Isn’t Matt seeing this?! WTF?, there’s a pretty good chance I haven’t.

Because, I assume, the kind of people who tend to be dickless wankers in internet comments don’t often read 1,500-word blog posts about relationship-related things, the comments section of this blog has never had any problems.

Until recently.

And as a STAUNCH advocate of free speech, I’ve always been inclined to let comments stand. I’ve been called plenty of bad things, and those comments are easy enough to find if you feel like reading through 4,000+ on the dishes post, or any of the predictably cliché blame-shifting ones from butt-hurt guys in the Shitty Husbands posts.

That’s a personal belief. That truth matters. That we must navigate life even when we don’t “like” things.

I live in the United States where every time a president is elected half of everyone is pissed off. And I feel like you can be the kind of person who takes their ball and goes home when things don’t go your way, OR you can take responsibility for helping people see things your way, so that maybe next time, the candidates who share your smarter, better ideas can win.

We MUST navigate life even when conditions aren’t optimal. Conditions are rarely optimal.

Thus, I’ve been ultra-hesitant to silence voices in blog comments simply because I disagree with them or simply because others don’t like them.

This is where I write. Plenty of people have not liked things I’ve written. But I’m not going to stop, nor change what I’m writing to placate anyone who doesn’t like my ideas.

But Then There’s This Other Thing

Despite my many shortcomings, I’m self-aware.

I KNOW that I don’t know many, many things. I KNOW that I’m statistically likely to be wrong about all kinds of things.

So, when I cringe at things I read in certain comments AND dozens of people share my reactions, it’s all very hard to ignore.

I am divorced today because I denied my wife’s right to her own reality. I repeatedly told her throughout our relationship that her emotions and thoughts were “wrong” or “crazy” or “unfair.”

And I am afraid that my instincts to stand up for the rights of people to say unpopular things may be the wrong choice here.

So, Here’s How It’s Going to Be

I’m pissed about this.

I have enough life problems and tasks. And that I have to babysit these comments and take crap from people for my lousy moderation is aggravating.

To be crystal clear on this, I’m NOT saying people don’t have legitimate gripes. The gripes are totally legit. I’m saying people have unrealistic expectations.

I’m both unable and unwilling to moderate these comments to the level required.

There have been tens of thousands of comments left on this blog since it launched in June 2013, and until now, there hasn’t been problem.

But now there is.

How We Say Things Matters

One commenter in particular leaves unpopular comments with regularity. I equate this commenter to the guy I used to see standing up on park benches outside my university’s student union screaming judgments at people walking by.

He’d hold up the Bible and yell at sorority sisters, calling them lesbian whores who will burn in hell. He’d yell at groups of friends minding their own business telling them they’re frat-boy sinners who need saved.

As a baptized Christian and churchgoer, I think there is merit believing in—and living for—things greater than yourself. In loving other people and ourselves. In pursuing truth and trying to live a meaningful, spiritually healthy and balanced life.

But that guy standing up on the bench? EVEN IF every word of the Bible is 100% true, the reality of life is that you can’t communicate with human beings in that manner and expect them to listen to you. If his goal was to GENUINELY “save” people and introduce them to his faith in an effort to help people discover Truth, he was never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever going to accomplish it by calling people sinners and whores.

Jesus, not one time in any recorded text, treated people that way nor taught anyone else to.

Thus, misrepresenting the faith is either an accidental disservice to good Christians, OR a deliberate attempt to fuck with people under the guise of trying to “save” them.

Either way, I don’t like it.

We have a commenter here who kind of, sort of, does that same thing. He believes certain things and shares them. Maybe he’s genuinely trying to help people consider an alternative perspective. Or maybe he’s deliberately fucking with people under the guise of trying to be “helpful.”

Either way, NO MORE.

I would—under no circumstances—allow that asshole preacher guy to stand outside of my house and yell at people visiting my home, my neighbors, or the people walking or driving down the street. Free speech, be damned.

Moving forward, if someone I know to be aware of this post and nonsense side drama writes anything that violates this…

To use honest storytelling as a tool to help people achieve healthy, lasting relationships by raising awareness of uncomfortable truths regarding the things commonly causing divorce and human conflict. To courageously demonstrate personal accountability with hope that others will too. To challenge the status quo. To fight for people, all of whom have intrinsic, immeasurable value and are capable of intensely heroic, beautiful and inspiring things. To encourage men to be great. To encourage all to choose hope.

I’m deleting the comment just as soon as I’m aware of it.

I’ll have tolerance for people who might not know better.

I’ll have little tolerance for people who intentionally engage, or bait, or flame someone whose ideas they disagree with.

It’s totally possible to read things on the internet and not reply to them.

It’s IMPORTANT to understand the perspectives of people who think differently than we do, because we get to use that information to correct false beliefs, or reinforce existing ones.

But in the end, all I’ve ever asked for is basic decency and kindness, and that’s apparently too hard for some.

Life tip: When 30 people tell you the things you say are indecent and unkind, it’s an indication of a problem.

I think Louis CK said it best: “When someone tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.”

Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

How to Fail at Saving Lives

(Image/timeshighereducation.com)

(Image/timeshighereducation.com)

Follow these 20 steps to do it right.

1.

Have your parents get divorced when you’re young. Before kindergarten works. Ideally, they’ll live in different states, but more important is that you inexplicably take on the responsibility for their feelings, even though you’re five years old. It’s your job to never make your parents feel bad, because you love them exactly the same amount. It’s important that you learn to try to please everyone, even though it’s impossible.

2.

Be nice to everyone at school, but don’t always be kind.

This is more about being accepted socially and not making others feel bad than it is about authenticity.

That means you’re nice to the smelly kid, the gay kid, and the awkward kid with bad acne when you’re near them, but you laugh privately with friends when they make jokes at their expense. If you say anything to defend them, maybe your friends will say: “What are you, a fag?” And you DEFINITELY don’t want to be called one of those. Not only are they different and weird, but God is also super-disappointed in their choices. It says so in the Bible. Jesus made onlookers uncomfortable by conversing with lepers and prostitutes, but you damn sure never saw him interacting with homosexuals, for God’s sake. Besides, those sinners throw footballs like a girl.

For Step 2, courage isn’t about being principled in the face of discomfort. Courage is about acting like a man.

3.

Go to college and have your mind blown that not everyone is like you.

Make friends with black students and think back on times people told you N-word jokes and you laughed, or how adults taught you that once black people start moving into neighborhoods, a bunch of bad things happen, forcing all the white people to move to safer neighborhoods with nicer shopping malls, and without all that jungle music.

Be shocked that people believe different stories about God, but don’t seem evil.

Be so ignorant about other cultures that you mispronounce the Arab Student Union the “A-Rab Student Union” while speaking to the president of the organization while he is trying to foster outreach programs with the student newspaper’s editor after 9/11. Be embarrassed when a friend corrects your offensive pronunciation.

Make friends with gay people and learn they’re not the slightest bit attracted to your dumb, straight, ass.

4.

Start dating your first serious girlfriend. Argue with her about politics and act like she’s stupid for disagreeing with you, even though she’s objectively smarter and better educated than you in every measurable way despite being two years younger.

Tell her during an argument over political issues that have zero impact on your individual lives that you would NEVER marry or have children with someone who thinks like she does. When you break up with her after more than two years together, make sure you do it in the most cowardly way possible.

5.

Meet someone else who agrees with you on more political subjects, even though you pretty much only think and talk about politics every two or four years during major elections. The rest of the time, politics have essentially no impact on your life. But make a big deal out of it anyway. It’s okay if you alienate friends, neighbors, co-workers and family, because everyone who disagrees with you is wrong, and you should probably be around smarter people anyway.

6.

Get married, because that’s what you do after college and stuff. Assume that she will love you like your parents love you. Always and forever — no matter what. It will make you feel better. Make “Never Getting Divorced” your primary life goal, because in your mid-20s, you can better appreciate its impact on your life.

7.

Be shitty at marriage. Not in the obvious ways everyone talks about. In the nuanced and less-obvious ways no one talks about, even though they’re actually why divorce happens. You shouldn’t know you’re shitty at marriage so much as you should be patient and forgiving toward your nagging and emotionally unstable wife who is clearly going off the deep end once again over something minor.

Don’t admit too much fault or responsibility. After all, you wouldn’t want to have your Man Card revoked like some whipped, Nancy-boy pussy.

8.

Get divorced. Let 30 years of whatever unresolved emotional and psychological bullshit you carry around in The Places We Don’t Talk About stab you in every mind- and heart-related orifice possible.

9.

Break.

10.

I don’t mean: Be sad for a little bit. I mean: Feel like you might die to the point where you almost want to just so you don’t have to feel that anymore.

Cry. Like, sob. Struggle to control your heart rate and the strange new panic-like feelings which pop up now and then without warning, even at times like work meetings or parties with friends.

If you think and feel the way you remember thinking and feeling for all of your life leading up to this point, it means you messed up Step 9. Go back and try again.

11.

Start a blog where you tell people about Steps 1-10. Never stop looking for greater understanding of how this all happened. Never stop asking, over and over again: Why?

12.

Have a major breakthrough, realizing that All These Things aren’t unique to you. Some of the details maybe. Like a murder-mystery, action movie, or romantic comedy, the details vary from story to story, but the themes and story arcs tend to all be the same. I’m not the only one.

13.

Even though you’re a guy, women live your story, too.

Even though you’re straight, gay couples have the same fights.

Even though you’re American, people in the U.K., India, Australia, the Philippines, New Zealand, Malaysia, Russia, the Netherlands, Cambodia and Japan all know EXACTLY what you’re talking about.

Liberal feminists in Oregon get it. Conservative military vets in Florida get it. Black women know exactly how your wife felt just as Middle Eastern men know exactly how you feel.

Despite labelling’s best attempts, you can’t find enough different categories to prevent Truth from setting in: Holy shit. We’re really not as different as I’ve believed all this time.

Millions of reads. Tens of thousands of comments and emails. Over and over and over and over again, confirming: Your story is my story.

14.

Keep looking for root causes. When conditions exist, there’s always a reason WHY. Kids would be great at finding root causes if they didn’t like playing so much more than researching, and if their parents liked truth more than comfort. Realize that Paul Newman’s Cool Hand Luke pretty much nailed it: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

15.

Because you can’t outsmart yourself, you’ll realize quickly that telling people that THIS is the root cause of nearly every horrible thing that has ever happened or will ever happen is an exercise in futility. Because you yourself thought you were the smartest sonofabitch on Planet Earth, even though you were a stupid, ignorant pothead moron, and you wouldn’t have spent five seconds pondering anything like this.

You yourself thought your wife was wrong and you were right. You yourself thought things like therapy or counseling or any other form of mental health care was for weak-ass bitches, and not smart, healthy and sane people like you.

16.

Hug your little boy in the morning before school and feel sad that you won’t see him later because he doesn’t always come home.

He has two homes now. Maybe he’s feeling responsible for managing your feelings because he loves you the same as his mom.

17.

Drive to work. Hear Disturbed’s powerful and beautiful cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s classic “The Sound of Silence.”

18.

Realize that Paul Simon was writing about everything you write and talk about on your blog. The song is about “the inability of people to communicate with each other, not particularly internationally but especially emotionally, so what you see around you are people unable to love each other,” Art Garfunkel once said in an interview.

19.

Feel the weight and truth punch you in the face.

“And in the naked light I saw, Ten thousand people, maybe more, People talking without speaking, People hearing without listening, People writing songs, That voices never share, And no one dare, Disturb the sound of silence.”

20.

Finally, come to terms with it all.

Today, little children will cry because their parents will divorce, or because they’re watching mommy and daddy scream at and hurt one another.

Hate will be spread.

Insults will be hurled.

Guns will be shot.

Bombs will detonate.

Bullies will bully.

Victims will be victimized.

Public servants will lie.

The hungry will starve.

The sick will not receive medicine.

They will happen. Each one of them. And many other bad things.

Why?

Because it’s inconvenient for people to listen while they hear. Because people want to be right about things which have no answers.

They want that more than they want to get along with someone who looks different or who grew up someplace where people did things differently.

They want it more than anything.

And you’ll get it, too. Because that was you. Caring more about the approval of kids or other adults than your own self-respect. Caring more about it than your wife’s wellbeing and the health of your family. Caring more about it than some strangers being hurt on the other side of the world that you don’t have to see or think about.

But because the Truth is the Truth no matter what, you’ll realize:

My failures in life and right now to communicate effectively are no different than the circumstances which cause virtually all non-illness-related misery in the world.

Every bad thing. From sadness to petty crimes to divorce to hate to murder to war. All of them, rooted in two people or groups who decide their opinions being deemed “correct” matters more than the fallout from their pride and ego.

It’s not hyperbole. It’s really life and death.

And you’ll want to save someone — anyone — with the simple idea.

It’s not HEAR. It’s LISTEN. There’s really a difference. And the difference means EVERYTHING.

Everything in Life that’s wrong is wrong because of that difference.

And you’ll wish it wasn’t true. Because all along, you’ve been part of the problem.

Silence, like a cancer, grows.

But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

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

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

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

There are bad words in this post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

subtle-art-cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Q&A With Mark Manson

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

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

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

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

Mark Manson

That’s Mark. (Image/Forbes)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Mark

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

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

This sort of thing is good for everybody.

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

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

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

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

Now, where did I leave those red balloons?

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Hey, Can We Talk About a Few Things?

can we talk?

(Image/firsteuless.com)

The irony has never been lost on me.

Some divorced guy who shortchanged his marriage offering something that looks and smells like marriage advice. Thousands of people think: “Who’s this asshole, and how could ANYTHING he says possibly matter?”

Plenty have said as much in comments, which means a trillion more thought it without exerting the energy to type it.

And I get it. I promise. I’ve tried hard to not be Advice Guy, and I’ve gotten sucked in at times playing amateur-hour therapist to people because they’ve asked me to, or because I had strong feelings about some aspect of marriage and relationships.

But that’s never what I wanted to be.

What I wanted to be was a real-life human being who was maybe a little bit more honest than most people about a bunch of these Life things we don’t usually talk about because it feels unsafe.

The truth makes people uncomfortable. It’s socially awkward to tell too much of it in the wrong setting. And the amount of vulnerability required to let others inside our REAL thoughts and our REAL fears and our REAL hearts is too much for most of us, most of the time. The vast majority of people I know have no idea I write things here. I don’t tell them.

Maybe I’m afraid.

I often wonder if that person over here or that other one over there has read something I’ve written, and when they’re talking to me, thinks less of me for it but keeps it to themselves trying to be polite.

There are plenty of people in my life with whom I used to have good relationships, and now I don’t. Maybe some of the writing is why.

I’ll probably never know.

But one thing is certain. If what I write here is going to mess with my head and fuel my occasional insecurities and adversely impact my real-life human relationships, then it damn sure better matter.

Which raises an important question.

Does it Matter Anymore?

One of the awesomest writers and speakers in the whole Human Being/Relationships/Life genre is a woman named Glennon Doyle Melton. She’s badass, but not in a fight-you-in-a-dark-alley sort-of way. She just really gets it, I think. We have a similar writing style, a friend pointed out back when I didn’t know who Glennon was. And we sorta do, but she’s better.

The closest thing to a gripe I have with Glennon is that she doesn’t write for me. She is 100-percent, unapologetically writing for women, which is a shame because I’m sure underneath all that she is, lives a bunch of insightful things that could benefit men, too.

As a writer and aspiring author, I try to pay attention to her because she’s like, my female spirit animal, or whatever. I don’t really know what spirit animals are.

So, let me set the stage for the next thing: Glennon is the bestselling author of “Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life” (which I haven’t read, but will) and whose second book “Love Warrior” is set to release in five weeks.

It’s a book about her marriage, and how she and her husband powered through the human messiness that affects all of us and our relationships. She’s likely to sell many, many, many copies.

She has a speaking tour, traveling around the country speaking to groups from a stage, smacking audiences with the same openness and vulnerability she infuses into her writing.

And despite the protest of some of her staff members and marketing people at the publishing company charged with promoting the new book launch, Glennon announced on her blog Momastery today that she and her husband (a central figure in her writing) have separated.

She’s choosing courage and authenticity over masks and book sales. She’s choosing vulnerability over staying hidden. She’s choosing truth over bullshit, even when bullshit feels safer and is infinitely more profitable.

Carry on, warrior, indeed.

Which brings us to me, to the things we discuss here, and to this important question: How much longer can I sit at the keyboard—with ANY semblance of integrity—writing about relationship stuff?

This all started because I got divorced and it sucked and I broke so hard that I didn’t know what to do with myself, and a therapist I spoke to drunk on the phone one night told me I should start writing things down.

She asked me to call her back and let her know how it was going. I never did.

My divorce happened a few months later, but April 1, 2013 is the day the world changed for me. The day before, on Easter Sunday, she took off her ring and said she was leaving. And I remember that moment just fine.

But it still felt the same. I’d spent the past 18 months in the guest room, crying sometimes like a colossal wimp. And then after work Monday, she was gone. A little boy was, too.

And then I cried some more, but it stopped feeling wimpy after a while, because it was all very hard, and it wasn’t a figment of my imagination.

IT ACTUALLY WAS DIFFICULT. For real. And I wasn’t weak or crazy. That’s when—despite being 34 years old—I finally figured out what empathy was, and how epically short I’d fallen of providing a requisite amount to my wife for the previous dozen or so years.

The stories mattered because they were real. Some were raw. Because I was teetering constantly between various states of Broken and Angry and Sad and Hopeful and Introspective and Intoxicated.

Even though my parents divorced when I was 4, and it was really hard, I didn’t know how hard divorce was.

That felt important to me. Divorce is hard. And all this time, when I’d hear about a couple divorcing, I’d think: Ehhhh. People get divorced all the time. I don’t want to do it, or put my son through what I went through, and it totally sucks to be them, but at least no one died or anything!

I never respected its significance. I was fundamentally broken on the inside. It hurts so much for a while, you have trouble doing anything more than staring into space, your body fully tensed, trying not to cry again, and almost forgetting to breathe.

When being alive feels that way every second of your existence for months or years, people start asking themselves whether being alive is actually the attractive proposition they’d always believed it to be.

If divorce is THIS hard, and HALF of all married couples do this, and MOST relationships are ending for reasons so few of us can even explain, then this is a bona fide social crisis. An emergency. Because this FEELS like the end of the world, regardless of whether it is. And if it FEELS like the end of the world, what difference does it make whether it actually is? Right now is real. Right now matters. And millions and millions of others are feeling this same way right this second. I need to tell other guys out there what I think I’ve learned.

It turns out, 60-70 percent of readers ended up being their wives, most of them corroborating my beliefs with a bunch of “Finally! A man who gets it” comments.

Relationship Avoidance After Divorce: It’s a Thing

I haven’t had a girlfriend since my divorce. You know, in the She’s Wearing My Varsity Jacket and Everyone in School Knows We’re a Thing kind-of way.

Maybe I’m afraid.

In those initial months following the world changing on April 1, 2013, my life was defined by the void in the center of it.

The black hole of despair needed filled. I was kind of obsessed with thoughts of dating and how difficult I perceived it to be for a mid-30s single father to meet available (and compatible) people.

I whined about it a lot in blog posts and to friends.

Every trip to the grocery store, or night out with friends, or dinner at a restaurant was a reminder of everything missing in my life.

I can’t tell you what changed. I can’t point to any one, specific thing. But at some point over the past 40 months, the black hole of despair disappeared.

New things filled the void. An evolving relationship with my son. A healing and respectful relationship with his mother. New life adventures, including new writing opportunities, a new business venture, and new human connections.

When friends ask about my dating life, my response now is a million miles away from three years ago when I was feeling sorry for myself all the time: “Honestly? I don’t even think about dating. I go out with people sometimes who I already know, but there are all these other life things happening. Who has time for first dates?”

To which I was recently challenged—fairly, I think.

The spirit of that challenge being: How long can you write with authenticity about that guy you used to be or about relationships when you’re unwilling to show up and be in them yourself? Aren’t you worried about being an observer of your own life, rather than living it?

And what do you say to that?

I don’t know.

I think Glennon said it best in today’s post:

“As you’ll read in Love Warrior, Craig and I endured serious trauma a few years ago. We suffered. My God, we suffered. I was broken, just completely shattered. And then we healed. It was beautiful.

“And this is what I learned: You can be shattered and then you can put yourself back together piece by piece.

“But what can happen over time is this: You wake up one day and realize that you have put yourself back together completely differently. That you are whole, finally, and strong – but you are now a different shape, a different size. This sort of change — the change that occurs when you sit inside your own pain — it’s revolutionary. When you let yourself die, there is suddenly one day: new life. You are Different. New. And no matter how hard you try, you simply cannot fit into your old life anymore. You are like a snake trying to fit into old, dead skin, or a butterfly trying to crawl back into the cocoon, or new wine trying to pour itself back into an old wineskin. This new you is equal parts undeniable and terrifying.

“Because you just do not fit. And suddenly you know that. And you have become a woman who doesn’t ignore her knowing. Who doesn’t pretend she doesn’t know. Because pretending makes you sick. And because you never promised yourself an easy life, but you did promise yourself a true one. You did promise – back when you were putting yourself back together – that you’d never betray you again.”

I’m not who I used to be.

Not when I was a kid. Not when I was a young adult. Not when I was married. Not when I was broken after divorce.

I picked up a bunch of those scattered pieces and got most of them put back together again.

And I mostly look the part. But I am new. I am different.

Better?

Stronger?

Wiser?

God, I hope so.

I don’t know what I’m afraid of, or even IF I’m afraid. Maybe I’m afraid of being hurt again. Maybe I’m afraid I’m not strong enough to walk the walk when the feelings fade and difficulty ensues. Or maybe it’s something else.

But here I am, 40 months removed from marriage, and talking about marriage, having not once put into practice most of the things we talk about here in the context of a committed relationship. One of my best friends got divorced one week before me, and just recently got engaged.

What does that make me?

I don’t know.

I started this because it made me feel better.

I kept writing when I realized it accidentally helped others and made them feel better.

And I guess now I’m looking for whatever’s next. As long as it matters to someone, somehow, I’m not even sure I care what it is. I just want it to matter because I do care about THAT.

Because you all saved my life.

Because you matter very much.

I should tell you more often. Because that matters too.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

You Don’t Understand Me for the Same Reason Couples Divorce

Some things simply get lost in translation. (Image/funcage.com)

Some things simply get lost in translation. (Image/funcage.com)

I wrote a post exactly three months ago today which was so popular and relatable to the average married couple that several million people read it.

It’s so popular that it has remained the most-read post on this site every day since, quadrupling MBTTTR’s daily traffic from pre-“dish” post levels.

The reason it became popular is because people read it, recognized their own lives, and wanted to share and talk about it with others.

And even though She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes By the Sink mattered so much to so many, it yielded and continues to elicit radically different reactions from readers:

“I like that this guy got to the deep issue of respecting his wife. It takes a lot of self-reflection for a man to understand that little things like this can really hurt a woman.”

“This will contribute to saving my marriage. I read it, felt like I understood him better. Then read it to him, and now (I think) he understands me better. Thanks!”

“This article is a heap of stink. A woman divorces a man because of him not putting a glass away makes her feel insecure and not loved. It may make her feel that way but to the point of no return and a broken marriage? Get real.”

“Your wife’s petty and you’re justifying it to your own detriment.”

Some readers identified with my ex-wife. Others identified with the me from five years ago. And another group thought the entire thing was a huge time-waste.

Millions of people read the exact same words, but describe it differently.

Millions of people see a dirty glass sitting by the sink, and describe it differently.

Sometimes, when two people describe the same thing differently, they will debate who is correct. “I’m right. You’re wrong. Let me explain why since you have a small, idiot brain.”

One person sees the dish and KNOWS it’s a freaking dish sitting by the sink. No more, no less. If one of the cars got wrecked, or one of them became terminally sick, or a Nigerian 419 scammer cleaned out their bank account, the last thing either of them would care about is a dirty dish.

The other person sees the dish and KNOWS it’s a thoughtless, disrespectful, negligent act of emotional abuse, and if repeated enough times, will be the death of their relationship. And what could be more important to a couple who shares homes, beds, resources, children—entire lives—than to protect that relationship?

It’s a matter of perspective. A matter of mutual respect. A matter of the life skill I perceive to be the most-influential factor in which couples make it, and which do not: Empathy.

I’m Either Sexist, Racist and Anti-Semitic, or… I’m Not

Yesterday, I published a post titled “Empathizing with Hitler…” and I think a bunch of people freaked out about it but didn’t say anything, maybe because I’ve built up a bunch of goodwill credits with them.

I think it is probably the most important post I have ever written, and it had an intentionally shocking headline, yet low readership and engagement, and I think maybe it’s because many people saw those words, jumped to conclusions, and chose to do something else.

Including the words “Empathizing with Hitler” in the headline was probably unwise. But when the goal is to help a man understand what the word empathy REALLY means, and what empathy REALLY is, I find the headline totally defensible, and still haven’t decided whether I’ll change it.

I do not empathize with one of the biggest mass murderers in world history. I do not in ANY way condone, respect or agree with his political and ideological beliefs or actions.

I simply thought a guy like me might be able to read it and make the connection I wanted him to make: Empathy probably isn’t what you think it is. Here is what it ACTUALLY is. Even evil mass murderers can find people to empathize with them. Because empathy is not a feelingsy emo noun, and you don’t have to feel like a “girly pussy” for being empathetic. Empathy is a SKILL. An action. We empathize when we relate to other people in a way that connects us like we do with our high school sports teammates, or childhood friends, or other people in our hobbyist groups who like all the same things we do. We FEEL “me too” and that creates an important connection. It’s EASY to do with people who agree with us on everything and like all of the same things we like. And it’s REALLY HARD to do with people who disagree with us and have different goals, like our wives and girlfriends sometimes do. Which is why if you don’t want to lose your wife and kids to divorce, it will make your life better to become a stud at deliberate empathetic behavior.

I despise the term “African-American” as a generic label for black people (unless I can be certain the people are actually American).

We don’t call white people “European-American” even though most Caucasian American’s ancestors were European. I don’t know WHY we don’t say “European-American” but one good reason would be because that white person sitting over there might have grandparents from Australia, or New Zealand, or South Africa.

Ever see actors Idris Elba, Chiwetel Ejiofor, or Lenny Henry in a TV show or movie? They all have fantastic American accents, so if I didn’t know they were British, and then saw one of them at LAX, maybe I’d elbow my travel partner and say: “Hey! Look! That’s totally Stringer Bell from The Wire!”

“I didn’t watch The Wire. Who are you talking about?”

“The African-American gentleman standing at the gate directly across from us.”

“Oh! That’s Idris Elba from the show Luther! He’s in lots of stuff! He’s actually not American. He’s British.”

And now, even though I was trying to be sensitive or whatever, I was actually being an ignorant and presumptuous D-hole.

One of the many blessings of the “dishes” post doing its thing and growing readership here, is that I have a handful of new people I’ve been able to get to know through the comments.

One of the most awesome is a Gottman fanatic named Lisa. And earlier today, she asked the following:

“As you know, I write all these annoying comments about how men and women are not as different as presented. That many of the things you describe are human and not really at their core pink and blue experiences.

“I fully acknowledge it’s important to understand nature/nurture reasons men and women see the world differently in the same way it is important to understand why blacks did whites see the world differently. But I think it is damaging to our common quest to help men do the hard work of learning empathy skills to perpetuate the idea that men and women are just fundamentally different in more ways than we are alike. I think the opposite is true and it makes it easier to empathize with someone you view as essentially similar even if the details are different.

“The underlying human needs are the same, we all want to feel respected and valued. Anyway, I empathize greatly with your own personal journey. I’m constantly humbled by my own inability to let go of my sense of rightness to empathize with others’ points of views. I greatly enjoy your blog and ‘seeing’ you transform your understanding of relationships. It inspires me to keep learning and struggling to change to be a more emotionally intelligent woman.”

At no point in reading this did I feel as if Lisa was attacking or criticizing. In fact, I’m certain she has my best intentions at heart and wants me to be the best-possible person and writer I can be, both for me and for anyone who might read things here.

I nonetheless felt a few pangs of diet-PTSD following the explosion of the “dishes” post.

Because of my personal experiences and worldview, I have written MANY posts through the prism of Men Commonly Think and Feel This & Women Commonly Think and Feel That, which several people have suggested is, or explicitly labeled it as, sexist.

Maybe it is. I haven’t decided yet, but I’m never afraid of asking myself hard questions and challenging my own beliefs. I’m also not afraid of explaining why I think and feel things, which is why shortly after the “dishes” post, I wrote I Guess I’m a Little Bit Sexist.

Lisa said, “…I think it is damaging to our common quest to help men do the hard work of learning empathy skills to perpetuate the idea that men and women are just fundamentally different in more ways than we are alike. I think the opposite is true and it makes it easier to empathize with someone you view as essentially similar even if the details are different.”

Why I Write the Way I Do

I might be getting worse at this as I grow more confident in my personal understanding of human psychology and emotional health, but my goal has never been to tell someone else how to think or what to believe. Not ever.

My goal is to accurately explain what I believe, how I arrived at those beliefs, and WHY I still maintain them. I’m not afraid to be wrong because if someone can demonstrate that I am, then I get to eliminate another false or incorrect belief and be a smarter, better human being afterward. Everybody wins.

I’m confident that when I say: “I think this, and I think this because…” that I’m reasonable enough that many people will agree with me, or at least understand me, which is enough. (Empathy!)

I don’t believe it is sexist to say that men and women are different. I think cars and trucks are different. Both machines are vehicles. But they are different kinds of vehicles. One is not better than another, though depending on the application, one might be a more appropriate choice.

Being different IS NOT the same thing as having more or less value.

Men are generally stronger (in terms of physical muscle mass only) than women. Men tend to demonstrate stronger spatial skills. They usually have penises.

Women generally demonstrate greater academic proficiency, better memory and stronger social skills. They usually don’t have penises.

Different. NOT better or worse. Simply, NOT the same.

And that gets complicated because the word “same” and the word “equal” can be synonyms. And there is NO question that women have long had to fight for equal treatment in too many life areas to list.

And women who have been fighting this exhausting fight in mind-blowingly subtle ways every day of my life sometimes take issue with me framing my stories through the gender divide.

I’m not insensitive to, or oblivious of, that fight.

Maybe this won’t always be true, but from the moment I wrote the first An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands post, this blog has been about ONE thing: Helping married people stay married if they want to.

I wanted to stay married, but everything was shitty and broken, and when I took a super-honest and uncomfortable look at my life and choices, I realized I always possessed the power to prevent my divorce, had I made better choices. Marriages don’t usually end from one loud and bright defining moment. They end from a million little moments so subtle and seemingly insignificant at the time that most of us don’t remember them.

Today, I think I know a lot (not relative to brilliant PhDs and therapists, but relative to the common man) about relationships and how they fail. People have shared thousands of stories with me, so now it’s easy for me to identify typical patterns because I have such a huge data sample.

Here are my non-scientific conclusions:

  • Husbands commonly make certain mistakes in marriage, and even after his wife expresses disappointment several times, he still will continue to make the mistake not realizing how important it is that he stop (if he wants to stay married and truly loves his wife—which I believe most husbands do).
  • Wives commonly feel the same feelings as other wives resulting from the same types of behaviors from their husbands.
  • Husbands commonly express thoughts and feelings to wives during fights which mirror those of other husbands in other marriage fights. It’s common for wives—whether they live in New York City or a little town in South Dakota or Canada or South Africa (my experience is limited to English-speaking countries)—to reply to those common husband arguments in ways similar to other wives all around the world. In other words, in my experience men predictably display certain communication habits and thought processes while women predictably display different and conflicting ones.

Dr. John Gray got super-famous in the early 1990s when he published Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus (which I’ve never read) because this metaphor made sense to millions of people. I’m assuming the ideas in the book saved a bunch of relationships. I can’t be sure.

I was Common Husband Guy every day of my life until some random day during my 18-month stint of sleeping in the guest room while my marriage died slowly and painfully. Finally, the discomfort of my life outweighed my stubbornness and pride, so I began a search for answers.

I read a bunch of things on the internet. I had lots of private conversations with husbands and wives. I went to the bookstore to grab books that I thought might help me find some answers.

Standing in the “My Marriage is Totally Screwed and I’m Obviously a Piece of Crap Husband” section of my local bookstore, I spotted How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It. I’d never heard of it or the authors. I went home that night and started reading it.

It blew my freaking mind, because page after page was explaining my marriage to me.

The truth hit me hard and fast: If this book can so accurately explain why my marriage ended while providing examples of how things I did and said hurt my wife, while things she did and said hurt me, and we both slowly drifted apart, then that means this must happen to other people all the time.

That is the moment I subscribed to Men Often Do This, and Women Often Do That, and it helped my brain make sense of things.

Maybe men and women are different because of a gajillion years of cultural influence, socialization, societal beliefs, etc.

Maybe men and women are scientifically hardwired to internally operate differently. That doesn’t seem THAT hard to believe to me that biology could be a factor. One has a penis. One has a vagina. One isn’t necessarily better than the other. They’re just, different.

I’m not sure the Why matters to me.

Recently, I’ve concluded that I’m committed to continuing my personal education on gender differences because I’m interested in the pursuit of truth, and I don’t want to spread ignorance or perpetuate myths, ESPECIALLY if they’re needlessly offensive or demonstrably untrue.

But my goal remains the same: To help men be better men and better husbands, because that will help them stay married.

I focus on men, because I’m convinced—no matter what the reasons may be—that women ARE better than men at competently demonstrating relationship skills. I think men accidentally self-sabotage themselves and their marriages, and are in turn mostly responsible for our world’s staggeringly high divorce rate.

And I think if I tell my story, through my eyes as Common Husband Guy, that some percentage of male readers will see themselves in the story as I did while reading the How To Improve Marriage book back in that guest room.

I know that women must practice empathy every bit as much as men should. But I also believe they’re (generally!) already better at it than their husbands and boyfriends. And I’m thoroughly convinced they don’t mind discussing it and trying to better understand it.

But I think men might mind discussing it. I think men might resist trying to better understand it.

Because men will go to great lengths to never appear weak. Great lengths.

And the truth is, we’re all weak sometimes. Some are just less honest about it.

The day everyone learns how important empathy is to their quality of life will be the day much of this stops being a problem.

Because the presence of weakness is simply another opportunity to strengthen something. And when we make enough pieces strong, we get to come out of hiding, stop faking it and walk tall.

Not like men or women. Like people.

Not like you or me. Like us.

One.

Indestructible.

…..

Like this post? Hate it? You can subscribe to this blog by scrolling annoyingly far to the bottom left-hand corner of this page and inserting your email address under “Follow Blog via Email.” You can also follow MBTTTR on Twitter and Facebook.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

The Difference Between Knowing the Path and Walking the Path

running

Anyone can run a marathon, right? After all, you’re only doing one simple thing. (Image/danieltrainingnetwork.org)

Because I sometimes make bad decisions and do the wrong thing, I got internet-mouthy with readers in the comments of a recent post. In doing so, I undermined the very message I attempt to convey as critical to healing broken relationships and having pleasant, healthy and functional marriages.

Nothing fuels Imposter Syndrome and fears regarding future relationships quite like realizing you’re behaving exactly as you did in the marriage you helped destroy.

I wrote about something I think is important and believe can help guys like me because it’s the concept that helped me discover the secret to making marriage positive and lasting. Some readers were offended by certain word choices and ideas I shared. And because they didn’t respond like I wanted, or agree with me, or didn’t focus on my conclusion and then forgive me and tell all their Facebook friends I’m perfect and amazing, I dug in my heels for a You’re-Wrong-and-I’m-Right-and-Here’s-Why exchange that changed approximately zero hearts and minds.

Like children do.

Like many disagreeing people do.

Like I did when I emotionally abandoned my wife in my marriage, creating a culture of resentment and mistrust which ended unceremoniously with her packing a suitcase and driving away one April Fools’ Day.

I apologize to the people whose opinions I dismissed as if they were somehow less important than mine. And I apologize to people in relationships hoping my explanation of how leaving dishes by the sink can end marriages might connect with their significant others, because maybe—even though blog readers and commenters are not the same as husbands and wives—you felt like all the comment-fighting was evidence that I didn’t really learn anything after all.

You wouldn’t be the first people to tell me that.

I’m Afraid of History Repeating Itself

I worry that, unless I meet someone of a particular temperament and personality type (not that I have any idea what that might be), I will end up doing many of the same bad things in a future relationship I did in my last one. The things I’m always warning people to not do now.

What if all the fights are about different things but I still end up reacting defensively and dismissively? What if, no matter how much I think I know, these same emotional triggers and habits always wind up sabotaging my relationships?

This is a key point: Some people LOVE conflict and could give a shit how they make you feel while they’re trying to “win.” I am not one of them. Kindness matters. More specifically, I would never—not once under any circumstances—intentionally choose to harm or inflict pain on people I love. Yet, I have accidentally done so countless times. I have done so with such frequency and relentlessness apparently that I could not convince someone I genuinely loved and shared a home with that she was genuinely loved enough to feel safe and secure in our marriage.

It really scares me. Because for the first time in my life, I understand something profound and powerful about the human experience—something many people don’t seem to know—and it causes a lot of unintended damage in relationships. And no matter how much I know it, and how much I think about and write about it for public consumption, I still demonstrate shortcomings in executing it during live-fire exercises.

It’s because there’s a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path.

How to Run a Marathon

Running a marathon is easy! There’s almost nothing to it! All you have to do is ONE thing for a very specific distance.

Anyone can do it, right?

You just run! That’s it. That’s all you do. You do one simple activity for 26.2 miles, and then you’ve completed a marathon.

Easy-peasy.

But then you’re me who probably can’t run a 5K without heart palpitations, and you try to do this “super-simple” thing and fail epically and/or die.

Because it’s actually a very difficult thing to do.

And everyone who has successfully done so (I’m not one of them) knew it was hard, so they took a bunch of steps, and trained and trained and trained and trained to be able to do it successfully.

Everyone knows how to run marathons. But not many can actually do it without proper mindset and preparation.

And so it is in marriage and our other relationships.

People often think once love stops feeling easy and romantic and lusty that they made a bad partner choice. Everything breaks down from there.

For some reason, so few of us seem to understand that we will eventually experience difficult moments which require sacrifice—sometimes very painful sacrifice—no matter who we’re with. We will get tired, bored, angry, hurt, and want to quit so we can stop feeling all of those unpleasant feelings and go do something fun and easy that makes us feel good.

Maybe on those days we’ll collapse for lack of preparation. Maybe we’ll quit.

We have choices to make.

Maybe figuring out what we need to do in order to reach the finish line can be the choice we make.

Maybe it can be the choice I make.

So maybe then we don’t have to be afraid anymore.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

How to Kiss Atop Mount Kilimanjaro

Mt. Kilimanjaro

(Image/africaninsightsafaris.com)

I was certain Santa Claus was real.

That’s why I argued with my friend Bill about it in second grade even though he had four older siblings who had exposed the whole racket by actually showing him where their parents hid the presents.

Whatever, bitch! I thought in much nicer little-kid language. If my parents say it’s true, and I get presents that say “From Santa,” and I believe it, then it’s obviously true!

True story: When I was 4, the seeds of doubt were planted RE: Santa’s existence when I received a note from St. Nick thanking me for the milk and cookies as well as the carrots I’d set out for the reindeer, in which Rudolph’s name was spelled “Rudolf.” Dad didn’t have Google in 1983, and maybe wouldn’t have double-checked the spelling anyway.

Because I was a little smarty back then before all the marijuana and alcohol contamination in high school and college, it didn’t take me long on Christmas morning to notice the discrepancy on Santa’s note versus my little paperback copy of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” which I’d probably leafed through a half-million times that week.

Maybe I thought the book was wrong. Maybe I thought Santa was a bad speller. Maybe I was in denial because all the Star Wars toys were magically filling up my new snap-shut Darth Vader action figure carrying case like a Yuletide miracle.

I was still certain Santa Claus was real. And that my friend Bill and all his siblings were dumb and wrong. Kris Kringle and his magic sleigh probably just skipped them for being naughty Santa-deniers who thrived on the destruction of childhood dreams.

We just couldn’t agree because he was a stubborn little thing in second grade.

“Dude. You’re not getting it. I KNOW Santa’s real. Here’s how: 1. I get presents from him. 2. He eats the cookies. 3. He leaves me signed notes. 4. He magically finds me Christmas morning, no matter which of my divorced parents I am with, or what state I’m in. 5. My parents told me and they’re never wrong and they never lie!” I rationally explained to him.

There was only one way to settle it: Asking Bill’s mom, because she’s an awesome lady who also is never wrong and never lies.

“Mrs. O! Bill is saying there’s no Santa Claus and he’s clearly wrong! Please correct him and then spank him or something!”

Bill retorted with some blah-blibbity-blah crap and reminded her of a previous admission that she and his father did, in fact, buy all the “Santa” gifts for him and his siblings. He thought that was his ace in the hole.

Not so fast, sucka!

His mother, ever steady and wise, calmly explained to him how the supernatural capabilities of St. Nick allowed him to deliver Christmas presents to me and children throughout the world while also having agreements with certain parents in certain families to take care of gift giving themselves.

He was speechless.

That’s right! Total ownage!

His mother settled it, proving that my totally smart and awesome friend was, in this rare instance, a stupid, low-information moron.

It feels good to be right and know everything, doesn’t it?

The Thinking Problem

I pride myself on being thoughtful. I don’t mean “thoughtful,” the adjective, where I’m always anticipating others’ needs and tending to them, which would be nice. I just mean I think a lot. Many would tell you I overthink things, and I’d say they’re correct.

If I have to choose between being an imbecile or being someone who thinks a lot, my gut instinct is to be as I am. Always thinking. Always imagining. Always asking questions.

I’m a far cry from being the intellectual I’d like to be. But I’m also not dribbling milk down my chin and eating generic Apple Jacks cereal on my smelly, stained couch high on meth and watching A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila in sweatpants and holey socks.

Even though I’m reasonably smart, read non-fiction, and went to college and stuff, and there’s an actual guy somewhere doing the meth-smoking, stained-couch thing while I type this; if he grew up not believing in Santa, I could throw all my evidence and reasoning at him, and still lose an argument to the meth head by virtue of me being wrong.

There’s a healthy amount of skepticism needed to not get hoodwinked by scam artists. To not be suckered by people trying to manipulate us. To make good, informed decisions in every facet of our lives.

Anyone who has changed their mind about anything, ever, knows we’re capable of believing things which aren’t true, no matter how intelligent we are.

While this applies to life’s most controversial subjects like theology, political science and Adele, this “thinking problem” also hampers us in every other area of life.

Here’s another true story: I won’t date anyone seriously I perceive to be a bad long-term match. Live too far away? Practice a different faith? Have an opposing political ideology? Root for the Pittsburgh Steelers? Have a bunch of different hobbies, tastes and interests?

I write her name on the People I Can’t Marry, Thus Shouldn’t Date list.

Point of clarification: This only applies to me being a father to a young child, or to the me from several years ago who aspired to have children with whoever I married. In today’s terms, it mostly applies to divorced single parents interested in long-term relationships. This is less of an issue for non-parents or those planning on never having children.

I’ve had several women tell me they think it’s a bullshit philosophy. Each time they said so I got the sense they thought I was saying they weren’t good enough, and since Must Be This Tall To Ride is the ironic and metaphorical theme of my entire life, I can appreciate how bad that feels, even though it wasn’t true.

It’s not because I don’t think they’re good enough.

It’s because I’m REALLY sensitive about divorce, since my parents did it, and then I did it, and it was fun zero of those times.

There are probably a million instances of better people than me making it work, but I can’t figure out what it looks like when my atheist girlfriend answers my son’s questions about God, or when my Jewish fiancée’s daughter asks me why Catholics pray to Jesus, or when my vegan wife bans taco night and I stop speaking to her for the rest of my life while steadfastly maintaining semi-regular taco consumption.

Critical thinking, analysis and healthy skepticism are important to good decision making.

But, excessive doubt? Particularly self-doubt?

It paralyzes us, preventing us from living fully, and leads to procrastination, feelings of permanent limbo, loneliness, depression and social anxiety, according to researchers with much better evidence than I had about Santa.

I believe I’m smart, and maybe I am, but because I believe I’m smart, I trust my judgment EVEN WHEN IT’S WRONG. Like the Santa thing.

And it works the other way, too. There’s a chance that—because I’m fairly smart and capable and devilishly charming—I could succeed in all of these life pursuits I avoid out of fear of failure, ranging from writing and business opportunities to my dating and family life.

Everything in life is either true or false. Right or wrong. Or somewhere in the middle and constantly changing relative to whatever conditions apply to that particular subject or thing.

I hate to admit it, but I make mistakes. I’m wrong, sometimes. I make errors in judgment, or I blatantly believe something that eventually proves false.

My entire life is about being the best version of myself I can be moving forward. I mess up in several areas. There’s no reason to believe my assumptions and decisions and doubts aren’t among them.

Say it with me:

I am not perfect. I make mistakes. I get things wrong.

Maybe things I believe about myself aren’t true. Maybe things I believe about life aren’t true. Maybe I actually can do that. Maybe I am strong enough. Maybe I am good enough.

Sometimes I doubt things. And because I trust that I’m smart, I let doubt paralyze me.

But what if I doubted my doubt? What if I challenged my own assumptions and beliefs?

“OMG! I can’t do this!…

“Wait a minute. Sometimes I’m wrong! Maybe I should doubt this self-doubt.

“Hey, self-doubt! I’m totally doubting you right now!”

And then you bring down the house singing outside your car or shower for the first time. And then you start a new business and your life gets better. And then you experience inner peace. And then you stand on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. And then you publish that book. And then you kiss the girl.

And then you realize you’re not an imposter. That you really can do it.

And then you change the world.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Crooked Soul Trying to Stay Up Straight

(Image/nature.com)

(Image/nature.com)

I’d like to tell you I’m a man of deep, unshakable faith. I’d like to tell you I know the real, actual truth about the universe and meaning of life so I could share the secret with you.

That’s a big deal when you’re a Christian. Certainty. Certainty wearing a “Hello, my name is Faith” sticker.

Maybe it’s a big deal for Muslims and Jews and Hindus and Buddhists and Atheists, too. Maybe you’re only a good member of your faith community if you believe everything you’re taught.

Understand something about me: I only saw good, kind, decent versions of Christians growing up—loving and charitable people who I only witnessed doing good things, and never doing bad things. I think that’s why I always felt ashamed when I was younger for wanting to make out with the cute girl in the church pew in front of me, or for questioning whether I’m literally supposed to believe that God once lost His temper and intentionally flooded the entire world killing every man, woman, child, animal, and plant which wasn’t on a giant wooden boat built by Noah and his family large enough to house two of every type of animal on Earth, followed by Noah’s family incestuously repopulating the world.

I nonetheless had mountains of evidence that Christians were good people. And since I knew a bunch of them, and had no reason to doubt them, I grew up believing all of the finer points of Catholic Christianity.

And let me tell you, that’s not an easy thing. I was just a kid. A pretty good and nice one too.

There wasn’t any ambiguity in our rules:

Any orgasm outside of marriage?

Going to Hell.

A hit off a joint or one too many drinks at a party?

You’re gonna burn.

Profane language?

Holy shit! An eternity of torturous fiery terror and torment!

That’s a lot to handle when you’re a 16-year-old boy, and your life revolves around girls, friends, sports, and daydreaming about going off to college, in that order, where you assume you magically become an adult and figure out what you’re going to be for the rest of your life, and maybe stop getting erections for no apparent reason.

Maybe Muslims and Atheists experience it differently. I hope for their sake that they do.

‘You Have an Obligation to Write About Your Faith’

People tell me that, sometimes. I always disagree with them, and then try to explain why.

I usually write about divorce, marriage and sustainable relationships, and I’ve earned some credibility with a group of people who think maybe I have a bunch of it figured out.

Here’s the thing: I can spit out a nice little playbook for how a man can make his wife feel loved, safe, secure and desired, and not want to divorce him as much as most women want to divorce their shitty husbands. I can. I’ve had THOUSANDS of wives, and even some husbands, write me to say so.

That doesn’t make what I believe true.

It just makes me confident.

Certain?

The only path to a good, forever-kind-of marriage is vigilantly practicing love—the verb—every day. It requires a healthy understanding of human psychology—how husbands’ and wives’ minds and bodies operate differently, and having the tools necessary to keep things from breaking.

For years and years, everyone was smoking. Even doctors. A bunch of people were dying from cancer and heart disease and we couldn’t figure out why. Eventually, we did. And now we know smoking invites sickness and death faster than not smoking does.

There are three kinds of people now.

  1. The kind who do not smoke because they want to do what’s best for themselves and the people they love.
  2. The kind who smoke because they don’t give a shit about themselves or others.
  3. The kind who smoke, know it’s bad and want to quit, but struggle with the addiction or habit for a variety of reasons.

On the subject of marriage and relationships, we are—as people—nowhere near as enlightened and educated as we are about the health ramifications of smoking cigarettes. Every day, people are accidentally and carelessly ruining relationships, damaging children, and tearing families apart.

There are three kinds of people who are married or in committed relationships, and unlike with smoking, the largest group has NO IDEA that what they’re doing (metaphorically smoking circa 1960) will invite sickness and death into their relationships.

  1. The kind who get it and do things the right—and frankly, only—way. Actively choosing to love their spouse and family every day, applying information they’ve learned about what makes their partner feel good to their daily lives. Proactively nurturing their marriages.
  2. The kind who abuse and lie and cheat and neglect because they don’t give a shit about themselves or others.
  3. The kind who sometimes fall short, understand that they can do and be more, want to, but struggle in their hearts and minds for a variety of reasons.

Let’s call it doubt. Maybe a person doubts that monogamy can really work. Maybe a person doubts they can trust their partner to not abandon them. Maybe a person GOT EVERYTHING THEY WANTED IN LIFE AND STILL DOESN’T FEEL HAPPY.

That last thing happens to decent, intelligent people all the time. They were certain this was what would finally make them happy, but then it didn’t, and now they want more.

There must be more to life than this.

Life in the Margins

I don’t write about God and/or Jesus because I think it’s an ineffective way to communicate with strangers. People don’t like being judged or preached to.

It automatically divides and makes people feel unwelcome. Not only that, it’s a bullshit thing to do.

And the answer to this question is why I think so: When is the last time you witnessed two human beings with deeply held spiritual, theological, philosophical or political beliefs discuss their differences pleasantly or otherwise, and afterward hear one say: “Gee whiz. You’re right. I reject all my previous beliefs and agree with you now.”?

Even once? Ever?

I mean, yeah. I’m Catholic. Kind of a rogue, miscreant one. I believe many things unique to Catholicism. I’m a regular churchgoer.

But I also have a bunch of stuff I’m not sure about. I used to feel guilty about that but now I don’t.

I don’t murder, because that makes sense. I don’t rape, because that makes sense. Can I really be damned for eternity for using birth control during married sex because money’s a little tight right now?

I’m tired of people acting like they know. No one knows. Zero people.

We know precisely dick.

We’ve had the world’s most-intelligent and thoughtful people trying to get to the root of what’s true about life and the universe since before the words “science” or “philosophy” were ever uttered. And no subatomic-particle physicist, pastor, atheist, teacher, scholar, prophet, rabbi, tribal chief or jungle medicine man has solved it.

Their argument and evidence would be convincing if they had. Like when the doctors proved to us that smoking caused cancer, and we believed them and made new choices.

We all want to feel certain.

I want to feel certain. I don’t want to believe in fairy tales. And I don’t know how to believe in nothing, Lebowski. I need meaning and reason and purpose, or I can’t make sense of anything. If the entire point of living is hedonism before the lights inevitably go off, why aren’t we all shooting heroin, hosting orgies and encouraging everyone we know to do the same?

But I’m NOT certain.

I don’t know.

Not for sure. Is what I feel faith and belief? Or is it just 36 years of habit reinforced by like-minded people within an unchanging faith community?

If no one ever told me the truth about Santa and someone kept sneaking “From Santa” gifts under the Christmas tree every year, might I still believe in him?

If Carl Sagan was my father and nothing bad ever happened to me for believing everything he taught me, would I look at the world completely differently?

If I didn’t have a father, money, education, enough food, or experienced love from family or friends, might I be willing to join a violent group of religious militants intent on spreading mayhem and murdering innocent people who believed a different God story than me?

The Shadow Proves the Sunshine

When you strip away all the bullshit, we’re all just a bunch of people who behave the way we do because of our beliefs and habits.

That’s why we usually believe whatever our parents taught us, so long as no negative consequences came from doing so. When it felt bad, we did something different than them.

I don’t know anything. I never have. I just believe things which make sense to me.

I don’t know that what I write about in terms of love and marriage actually works. I just believe it strongly because I’ve read, discussed, and thought a lot about it and it made sense to me.

Maybe some really good guy out there has been married twice and did everything right both times, but in both marriages, his wife took advantage of him financially and slept with his best friend. Maybe now that guy can’t believe what I believe anymore.

I’m done pretending I know what it’s like to be another person.

Maybe some people can’t believe in God because they watched their mother die of a horrible disease she didn’t deserve to get, or because they lost family on Sept. 11, 2001, or because their parents told them there is no God, and since thousands of children die every day in Africa from asshole warlords and no sanitary water, that story made sense to them.

Something is true, and I don’t know what it is. But I like trying to figure it out.

The only thing I really know is what it’s like being me.

A flawed, broken, uneven human being who can feel joyful and grateful one day, and a little bit sad and empty the next.

A guy who does all kinds of things my faith community warns me could send me straight to Hell.

That might be total bullshit. Or 100-percent true.

I won’t know until I’m dead. That’s when we will all learn the truth OR when the lights go out and our consciousness insta-shuts off, and the book of our life ends, maybe mid-sentence and unresolved.

On the other hand, I can’t tell you I don’t believe in God.

Do I doubt some of the details of thousands-year-old religious texts which include mountains of symbolism and metaphor? Sure!

But do I doubt God’s existence, goodness, or power? How could I? Why would I want to?

Some people don’t like God and religion. But it’s not because of God and religion. It’s because some religious people do heinous, horrible things in the name of their faith, thereby making every sane person on earth despise them and reject their beliefs.

That makes sense to me.

If the only Christians you ever knew screamed “God hates fags!” at your gay friend or family member, or staged protests at the funeral of your neighbor killed in military combat, or bombed women’s health clinics because they’re somehow convinced God’s preferred solution to ending abortion is murdering people with guns and explosives, would you like them or want to practice the same faith?

Isn’t that what many Muslims deal with now? Judgment and squinty-eyed suspicion based on the actions of a few?

Life has clearly demonstrated that one size does not fit all.

I think everyone feels the emptiness sometimes. Every faith. Every walk of life.

Things just feel off, sometimes. We can’t figure out why because when we write it all down on paper, our lives are exactly what we think we want.

I HAVE EVERYTHING I WANT AND STILL DON’T FEEL HAPPY.

I love my wife and I want to be married, but I don’t always feel like sacrificing for her. I don’t always feel like not putting my penis in others I’m attracted to. My marriage didn’t turn out the way I thought it would, so what’s the point?

There will always be that third group. The group too damaged to love themselves or others. Who just want to watch the world burn.

Then there’s the rest of us. With all our doubts. All our ignorance. All our guilt. All our shame.

Crooked souls trying to stay up straight.

The longer we live, the more bad things we experience. We collect more scars. We lose more innocence.

It’s so easy to embrace the cynicism now. To abandon hope while the politicians scream, and the fanatics shoot, and greedy abuse, and our friends fail us, and our marriages burn while we cry.

But here we are. Still trying.

We pray and we hope. We try to be good, for the sake of being good. We do things that are difficult or inconvenient because it’s what’s right.

People keep waiting for a blinding light. For God to speak thunderously from a mountaintop or burning bush. To feel certain again. Like when we were kids and less afraid of everything.

God doesn’t yell. We’d all know if that were true.

He whispers. Whispers are hard to hear.

I think when people have everything they ever wanted and still don’t feel happy, or genuinely love their spouse and family and want to be married, but still feel empty?

I think that might be a whisper.

I think that’s when we’re supposed to cede control. For God to fill the gaps. I think God likes working in the margins.

I’m never going to suggest you need to be saved. That you should believe what I believe. That I have some answer you don’t. I don’t know. And I think most, if not all, people who say they know are mistaken or lying.

I will always try to ask the right questions, though.

When it seems as if all options have been exhausted, is it possible the only thing you’ve never tried is a legitimate leap of faith? Is it possible that could make the pain and fear go away?

I’ll always say what I believe and why and let others form opinions about it. To decide for themselves whether the nagging emptiness we don’t usually talk about might be a whisper. A nudge to wake up inside.

Maybe there’s no love without hate.

Maybe there’s no hot without cold.

Maybe there’s no light without darkness.

What do I believe? That the shadow proves the sunshine.

 

(Thanks to Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman for writing this beautiful song, and inspiring this post.)

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: