The Truth About Love You Might Not Accept

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"The Vagabond/Prodigal Son" by Hieronymus Bosch
“The Vagabond/Prodigal Son” by Hieronymus Bosch

There was a wealthy farmer with two sons.

The younger son, dissatisfied with his boring life, went to his dad and asked for his inheritance early. The request was demanding and entitled. It would have been interpreted at the time a little bit like he wished his father was already dead.

Then the young man, armed with a lot of money, left home, abandoned his family and their business, traveled far and wide, and lived lavishly.

Fancy clothes. Expensive meals. Wild parties. Lots of sex.

He did that every day until he ran out of money right around the time the economy tanked and weather patterns decimated regional crop farming. Widespread famine took hold.

The rich, entitled kid had nothing left. No real friends. No viable job prospects. And now there was a food-shortage crisis, so he couldn’t find food.

With no other options, he would have to return home, tail tucked between his legs, and beg his father to let him come back. He didn’t expect a warm welcome. He was going to ask his dad to hire him as a farmhand to work the land, and sleep in one of the barns with the farm animals.

But to the young man’s surprise, that’s not how it went down. When his father heard word that his wayward son had come home, he dropped everything and sprinted to him.

Instead of admonishing him for being so selfish, foolish and irresponsible, he hugged him tight with tears of joy, expressing his love and gratitude for his safe return.

Instead of punishing him for abandoning the family and his responsibilities to waste a small fortune on excessive living, he threw a massive party to celebrate his child’s return.

The older brother was pissed. While his idiot brother was out burning money on wine and prostitutes, he had stayed home and dutifully tended to the family business and was an all-around respectful and obedient son.

No one ever threw me a party for doing the right thing!, he thought.

He went up to his dad and said what most of us would: “Umm. Dad. This is total bullshit. I’ve been right here doing all the right things all these years while that douchebag was off wasting his entire fortune on drunken orgasms. Then he comes home, and we treat him like the conquering hero? Where’s my party, dad? Where’s my ‘Atta Boy?”

The father understood his elder son’s frustration, but said simply: “Celebrating your brother’s return is the right thing to do. We thought he was dead. But here he is, alive. He was lost. And now he’s been found.”

Anyone even loosely familiar with the bible knows that story. It’s the parable of the Prodigal Son—a story about redemption. My favorite kind. It’s supposed to symbolize the endless mercy of God, personified biblically as a loving father.

But it’s also the best story I know which addresses the thing we need to talk about, because I think maybe a lot of people don’t know what it really means. And I think maybe that lack of understanding is ruining their marriages; their relationships with children and parents, with siblings, with friends, with neighbors, with co-workers, and everyone else:

Unconditional love.

Because We Care What Others Think, We Do Stuff

It’s uncomfortable to admit. We all want to believe we’re so courageous and unique and authentic. We all want to believe the decisions we make are for us because we’re genuinely pursuing whatever it is our hearts and minds compel us to chase in life.

But that’s bullshit, and we all know it.

We do things to win the approval of our parents. You didn’t go to medical school at Dartmouth because you wanted to go to Dartmouth or become a doctor. You did it because your grandfather did that, and then your dad did it, and if you don’t do it, you’ll always be the person who tarnished the family legacy, and you were afraid of the shame and possible rejection.

We do things so that other kids in school will accept us. You dated Lauren because she was hot and you wanted to look cool to the other guys, not because there was some legitimate emotional connection. You avoided playing in the band, not because you didn’t love music, but because you didn’t want your football teammates calling you a “band nerd.”

You didn’t drink beer because you actually liked it. Cherry Coke and Dr. Pepper always tasted better. You did it because you wanted to fit in.

We still do this as adults. All the time.

It affects our choices about the houses we live in and the cars we drive. It influences the clothes we wear. Who we hang out with. How we treat our friends.

We worry about our children’s behavior sometimes, not because we’re ACTUALLY worried about the long-term impact on our children’s lives (most of the dumb stuff they do will have almost no bearing on how their lives turn out, and are in fact necessary experiences from which to learn important life lessons), but because we worry about what other parents might think about us as that kid’s parents.

We do and feel many things for no other reason than we invest in other people’s perception of us. The most interesting part of that is, we don’t really know what another person thinks of us. So we project our personal feelings on others, and essentially guess what they think will make us look attractive or smart or funny or successful or whatever. And then we try to display that ideal image as much as possible. We do so in an attempt to win favor with those around us for whatever conscious or subconscious reasons we have. So we ultimately end up living a huge percentage of our lives in the service of others who probably don’t care, and even if they do, we don’t know what they actually believe anyway unless we take off the masks and build legitimately authentic relationships with them.

We’re always pretending a little.

I don’t think that makes us phonies. I think it just makes us humans who haven’t yet asked ourselves the right questions, nor answered them correctly.

If we had, we wouldn’t be driven by fear.

Learning to Enjoy Dating After Divorce

Okay. “Enjoy” is an overstatement. Dating after divorce generally blows.

But there’s one aspect of it I’ve learned to love: I don’t give one iota of a shit what the girl I’m meeting thinks of me.

Let me clarify: Of course I want to be liked. I prefer the feeling of someone liking and desiring me MUCH more than the feeling of non-interest or rejection.

But because dysfunctional relationships, emotionally inconvenient breakups, nor God forbid, another divorce, aren’t things I want; and because I learned the hard way that wearing masks and shutting out partners from our innermost thoughts and feelings we’re too scared and insecure to share for fear of rejection is a proven path to relationship failure; I’ve developed a taste for courageous honesty. Frankly, it isn’t all that courageous anymore because I’m no longer afraid to share it.

If I tell the girl on the other side of the dinner table something honest about myself and she doesn’t want me because of that honest thing, how was a relationship ever going to work out in the first place? Why would I WANT to be with someone who only liked the fake version of me?

Men have been lying to women to get them into bed for as long as people have had the ability to communicate. (I can’t prove that. I’m just certain it’s true. Cro-Magnon Man was totally grunt-lying to cave chicks about the size of that last bear he killed.)

But if the goal is something with staying power and long-term sustainability, doing the thing most guys do in high school and college to look cool or high-status to girls we meet, is pointless. It amounts to little more than trying to impress them and win their superficial approval. Even if we succeed, it provides no value to our future selves or our current or future children.

Dishonesty—even in the form of not disclosing those two or three things you don’t like sharing with others because you’re afraid they’ll run away or think less of you—WILL break your relationship. And the longer the relationship goes, the greater the pain will be.

So, we choose honesty.

I’m divorced, and largely responsible for it.

I have a young son.

I have ADHD and it sometimes strains my relationships and can affect other parts of my life, professionally and financially.

I’m a child of divorce.

I’m totally middle class but genuinely work hard to be more.

I’m not the kind of dude who can fix your overheated engine on the side of the road, or build you a shelter with my imaginary knife I always carry with me if we get lost in the jungle before I go kill our dinner.

This, this, and this is wrong with me.

I believe X, Y and Z even though it might make you uncomfortable and not want me.

After you take off the mask and share THE REAL YOU with someone? Those who want you, admire you, crave your companionship, enjoy your company; and want to be friends with you, invite you to parties, introduce you to their family and professional network, and think you’re the kind of person who could positively influence their children…

THOSE are the people with whom you build long-lasting, meaningful relationships in whatever capacity you choose.

THOSE are the people who love you, not because of what you do for them, or how you make them look to the people in their lives whose approval they seek, but because they really, just, love YOU.

Mark Manson’s “Maybe You Don’t Know What Love Is” got my wheels turning about this. In it, he writes:

“If you want to remove or repair the conditional relationships in your life and have strong unconditional relationships, you are going to have to piss some people off. What I mean is that you have to stop accepting people’s conditions. And you have to let go of your own.

“This invariably involves telling someone close to you “no” in the exact situation they want to hear it the least. It will cause drama. A shit-storm of drama in many cases. After all, what you are doing is you are taking somebody who has been using parts of you to make themselves feel better and denying their ability to do so. Their reaction will be angry and they will blame you. They will say a lot of mean things about you.

“But don’t become discouraged. This sort of reaction is just further proof of the conditions on the relationship. A real honest love is willing to respect and accept something it doesn’t want to hear. A conditional love will fight back.

“But this drama is necessary. Because one of two things will emerge from it. Either the person will be unable to let go of their conditions and they will therefore remove themselves from your life (which, ultimately, is a good thing in most cases). Or, the person will be forced to appreciate you unconditionally, to love you in spite of the inconveniences you may pose to themselves or their self-esteem.”

Life is difficult. It’s not easy even though we all wonder: Why not?! Relationships are difficult because they require energy and maintenance. Everyone wants love to be a feeling flowing from an eternal spring of easyness like infatuation and lust, two reasonably bullshit feelings exposed as frauds by how short-lived they are.

But not love.

Because love isn’t bullshit. Maybe love “the feeling,” is. But not real love. Not love “the choice.”

It’s the one you wake up and choose to give because you love without expectation of getting something in return. It’s unconditional. You don’t love because of what the person does for you. You don’t love because of how they make you feel about yourself. You don’t love because of the opportunities they provide you.

You just love. Without agenda.

Just because.

Maybe that’s how things come back from the dead.

Maybe that’s how something sacred and lost gets found.

48 thoughts on “The Truth About Love You Might Not Accept”

  1. It’s spring and I’m hopeful – great post, as always makes me think, makes me want to be better than I am. Thanks and enjoy your week.

    1. Thank you for reading it, Clay. Always great to hear from you.

      Spring is an excellent time to choose hope, and also to invent a substance that will green your grass, but stifle its growth.

      So, if you don’t mind. Please do that. I’ll buy it.

  2. Great post and full of honesty. I appreciate how truthful you are in discussing your past. Nearly every divorced man I dated won’t claim any responsibility for the demise of their relationship and instead play the victim card, which to me is a red flag. I believe the minute you own up to your mistakes your on the path to recovery and the next relationship being a healthy one.

    1. That was me, too, Jordan. When the split first happened, it took me a few months to pull my head out of my ass.

      Life is so much easier when nothing is your responsibility.

      But it’s so much better when when you accept that almost everything affecting you IS.

      Thank you very much for reading and commenting.

  3. Keep writing Matt. Your posts are priceless. I relate a lot having been divorced and now married to a great guy who has been a shitty-husband-at-times-but-trying-to-improve thanks. to you and your posts.

    1. Right?

      We fall. We get up. We seek forgiveness. We are forgiven. THEN, we offer the same to others.

      Then, everything can be okay.

    1. Thank you, Roxanne. Awesome double-heart emojis! I don’t think I’ve seen those before, but I also have a terrible memory. 🙂

  4. Hey Matt,

    I’m feeling you for most of this. The parts about honesty, being vulnerable and willing to share things with others instead of hiding them, and specifically the part about being willing to say “no” to the other person. I think those things are really important, and are signs of healthy relationship.

    You lose me though when you talk about love without expecting anything in return, or without conditions.

    A pet peeve of mine is hearing people talk about expectations in a relationship as if they are a bad thing. In my mind, they are necessary. And even healthy.

    When I commit to someone, I expect that it is exclusive. They are committing to me, and I to them. I expect them to not want to do things like have sex with someone else, or at least recognize then they are putting themselves in a situation where that can happen, and removing themselves beforehand.

    I expect them to care about me, and both consider and respect my opinions and ideas.

    To me expectations are tied to boundaries. We all have them, and I think they are needed. In a relationship we need to be able to understand and respect each others boundaries.

    That doesn’t mean we always have to agree. That doesn’t mean we have to always meet them. But they are still important.

    I think maybe the love is unconditional, in that you will always love the person. However love alone is not enough. For a relationship to exist and to be successful, expectations do exist.

    If I have boundaries and things that I need and they are constantly not being met, I have two options. First, take a good look at myself and determine if my boundaries are really what I think they are. Can they shift? Should they shift? Often people in broken relationships are constantly redrawing their boundaries. Putting up with more and more in an attempt to “hold onto the relationship”.

    But there comes a point where you’ve given up too much, and the other person is showing that they are interested in a relationship with you only when it is on their terms. There’s no give and take, just give while the other takes.

    And when that happens, if shifting those boundaries any more means giving up too much of yourself for the relationship then option two is to walk away. And say yes, I love you still. But while I will always love you, love alone is not enough to maintain a relationship.

    1. I agree with everything you say here. I’ve always struggled with/had an issue with the idea that romantic relationships should include “unconditional love”. To me, unconditional love is what a parent feels for a child. In a romantic relationship, there are conditions and expectations and boundaries and in order for the relationship to work and flourish, both people have to work and respect and recognize each other’s conditions.

    2. Really important ideas, and really important distinction here, Drew.

      I know I write about marriage all the time, so the base assumption is that I’m applying this to marriage (and I am a little), but this was more about the ideas Manson explores in his excellent piece than it was about me suggesting the thing that’s wrong with everyone’s marriage is simply that they don’t actually love each other.

      It’s just food for thought.

      Love is important. It’s powerful. It’s at the root of our marriages and all close interpersonal relationships (as well as our relationship with ourself).

      But you’re right. Love is NOT enough to make a marriage work.

      You can unconditionally love your partner every day forever, but if he/she cheats, abuses, manipulates, cons, swindles, hurts, etc. then the relationship is likely to end, and almost certainly should.

      Boundaries and expectations are critical to relationship success. Enforced fairly.

      I just want people to think about their relationships (ALL of them–not just their romantic ones) and when there is drama and dysfunction, really explore why.

      I suspect it’s because for at least one of them, the relationship is mostly conditional.

      It’s unhealthy, and people should be self-aware about these sorts of things. It helps us in every imaginable life scenario involving other people.

      1. Totally agree. And I think that often the things we personally view as needs are really wants, and our boundaries do have a bit more flex to them then we may have realized at first.

        I often hear of relationships where someone is complaining that the other person is expecting too much from them. And sometimes they are. But other times, it’s really a case where they want to receive without giving in return, and ANY expectation is seen as too much.

        Boundaries and expectations are important and healthy. Finding “appropriate” boundaries and expectations however can be hard, and they can evolve over time.

    3. I agree (with both you Zombiedrew, and Annette and Matt’s reply).

      “You should love me unconditionally” can be a slippery slope. Should we all just go and find ourselves a damaged misandrist/misogynist psycho to pour our unconditional love on? Obviously not (and I don’t think Matt is saying this either!).

      I like your thinking about all of this Zombiedrew2. Sometimes our boundaries need to be more flexible, and they can change over time. Sometimes our needs are wants. Sometimes our needs are needs, but we shouldn’t expect our partners to fulfill them. Sometimes normal and acceptable behaviour (at least on an occasional basis) from our partner triggers unhealed wounds, and we demand that they always pay attention to us whenever we want it or something like that. That’s not realistic or healthy. I believe people sometimes draw boundaries in the wrong places. In order to hold onto the relationship, you don’t set a boundary in an appropriate place, because that’s a place that’s likely to result in major pushback from your partner/loss of the relationship, like you say. Instead, you try to regain some sense of self and try to kid yourself into believing that your relationship is fair (or whatever) by being snappish or setting a boundary in a place that doesn’t really matter to you, or that isn’t reasonable.

  5. Oh, goodness. That was so good and honest and true I don’t even know what to say. I’m stuck right now between knowing that what I have is none of the above and also knowing I have four children who don’t want their parents divorced and remembering what it was like to be a child of a really messy divorce. Sucks all around these days. Thanks for sharing.

    1. That’s really sad to hear, Toni. I had no idea there was anything resembling marriage issues in your family.

      I know you’re someone like me (only better), and you just want to do whatever the “right” or “best” thing is. And I appreciate fully how difficult it is to always know what that is.

      Legit thoughts and prayers for you and your family this Easter.

      I appreciate you popping in and leaving this note.

  6. In my marriage, I have learned in the long term that love is multi-faceted. Often love causes me to make a quick decision for our relationship that I feel is from a place of love, only to find out later on that it has done more harm than good. Sometimes love causes a disconnect because it’s hard to see that love also means pointing out our own faults, and unfortunately those of our spouse/partner. When we decided to try again on our marriage there was a lot I kept bottled up, thinking I was doing the right thing by letting it go, when I was really only setting us up for failure. (This does not include things like dishes by the sink, but belittling, name calling etc.) Honesty is a choice made with love if applied with tact, humility. Saying it with the bigger picture in mind, rather than a one off. I don’t regret my silence as it taught me to stand up for myself, but I do regret not loving my spouse enough to speak up, lovingly, when I should have.

    Another great post Matt.

    1. Right. It’s never totally black-and-white, is it?

      Drew pointed that out above. How unconditionally loving someone in the context of a romantic relationship can lead to subjecting oneself to abuse.

      There’s a line between loving unconditionally WITH strong boundaries, and loving unconditionally as a punching bag. Only someone in a given relationship, or with a front-row seat to one, could ever know where that is.

      Similarly, honesty is SUPER-important. But yeah. We hold back to protect others’ feelings, or our own, and it’s not always easy to figure out when is or isn’t the right time to speak up about something, even though our hearts are in the right place all along.

      Never easy.

      Thank you very much for reading and commenting.

  7. Fromscratchmom

    I loved your paraphrase of that wonderful parable, Matt. Thanks for that! And of course I love the important discussions that goes on underneath the posting. Great stuff!

    1. Jesus might frown on word choices like “bullshit” and “douchebag,” but I also think he understands.

      In fact, I’m not entirely convinced he wouldn’t have used them had such words been part of the Aramaic lexicon 2,000 years ago. (Not as insults. Just as words characters in his story might use.)

      That’s probably not true. 🙂

  8. Any way we can make this required reading for every single middle schooler? Seriously? My ex and I would’ve NEVER gotten married if I knew who he was before we married. And if he would have believed me when I told him who I was and what I was about. Not that there was a good/bad thing going, but there were fundamental differences that would eventually play an enormous part in our divorce.

    Thanks for putting this out into the world. Hopefully it will save some folks from rocky relationships and divorce.

    1. You should thank Mark Manson. He’s five years younger AND five times smarter.

      That guy’s awesome, and his piece about not really knowing what love is, is a lot better than this blog post.

      But thank you. Because I’ve really come to feel strongly about this in the context of dating, especially.

      Don’t hide. Just put it out there. Because, WHO. FREAKING. CARES?

      It just doesn’t matter if a stranger doesn’t like me. I used to think it mattered. I used to think it mattered SO much that I’d pretend a little to try to fit into whatever little category I thought I needed to fit into to win her approval.

      A. I didn’t know that would destroy relationships.

      B. I didn’t know she’s always hiding and pretending a little, too.

      C. I didn’t know the key to REAL connection is when two vulnerable people accept the flawed and scarred and imperfect bits about one another.

      It’s a life-changing thing to understand on a variety of levels.

      When you approach dating (and all relationships) through that prism, even rejection is a win.

      Honesty organically filters out all incompatible people, leaving you ONLY with compatible and accepting people.

      It’s beautiful, really.

      1. bygeorgeithinkyou'vegotit

        Thank you for relaying the Mark Manson blog…

        I really like what you say here…

        “Honesty organically filters out all incompatible people, leaving you ONLY with compatible and accepting people.”

        It is so accurate… 🙂

        1. Mark uses a few more bad words than I do. If you can deal with it, then you’ll find a guy who writes and thinks better than I do.

          He’s one of my favorites.

      2. bygeorgeithinkyou'vegotit

        I really like his “down to earth” style.

        And I probably swear more than he does so… no worries.

      3. “Honesty organically filters out all incompatible people, leaving you ONLY with compatible and accepting people.” YES! THANK YOU! Sage wisdom here. I hope everyone sees this article.

  9. I don`t think unconditional love really, truly exists. I`ve never seen or experienced it, at least.

    I don`t give a damn what people think of either. I`ve never been one to try to shape myself into the person others want me to or wish I could be. I am me – take it or leave it. At the end of the day, I don`t care.

    I was married once and divorced and I will never, ever get married again. We were both to blame for the break up – we both drifted apart and simply stopped loving each other. It was the best thing to ever happen to both of us.

    I wasn`t all broken up and lost after it ended, I felt free – like my entire world finally opened up. I realize the divorce experience is different for everyone, I`m simply sharing my own experience.

    I am conflicted on having expectations in a relationship. I do see the point of having some common-sense ones like “While we are together I am expecting you to be faithful to me” but then again, I also see it as dangerous because if that expectation isn’t met, it will cause a lot of pain.

    I hate when people have expectations of me and wish people would love me for who I am – imperfections and all – but that hasn’t happened yet. Someone always want to change me or push my toward change quicker than I am ready for. No thank you.

    1. I’d argue that you know who you are, what your boundaries are, clearly state those boundaries, clearly state your expectations of others, and clearly state what others should expect from you.

      I’m sure that rubs people the wrong way sometimes. I’m sure there are people who don’t want to be besties with you after you say those things, but the people who do stick with you are No-Bullshit, No-Masks, No-Drama people who love and care about you without any agenda.

      And I’d argue all of that is totally cool. Just keep being honest and learning from your past.

      But here’s where what you’re saying is NOT cool:

      1. Traditional romantic relationships, especially Marriage (which you’ve already identified as being not for you).

      2. Parenting (which I also think doesn’t apply to you.)

      I write about marriage a lot because most of this blog is about helping people (mostly guys) who WANT to get or stay married have healther, more-honest relationships.

      And a lot of people think that makes me some super pro-marriage guy. And I’m not.

      In fact, it seems obvious to me that too many people marry who shouldn’t, or at least, aren’t adequately prepared mentally nor emotionally for it.

      I think it’s AWESOME when people don’t get married knowing it’s not for them. Because that means: Less Divorce. And THAT’s what I’m for. Less divorce.

      You are more than entitled to your personal feelings. It’s not another person’s place — certainly not mine — to challenge your life experiences.

      But I feel confident in a big-picture, generic sense that you could never have a healthy romantic or business partnership playing the No-Expectations Game, nor could a person have a functional relationship with a child or parent.

      I love that you know who you are. Most of us aren’t even THAT evolved.

      And I love that you have strong boundaries. You can always have healthy relationships.

      But I worry about your realism, which feels a little bit like cynicism. We don’t need to experience things to know they’re real.

      I’ve never experienced wealth (which is totally relative, I know). I’ve never experienced cancer. I’ve never experienced a heroin high. I’ve never experienced extreme poverty or hunger. I’ve never experienced rape. I’ve never experienced discrimination based on gender, skin color, sexual orientation, religion, etc. I’ve never stood atop the cliffs on the Irish coast line and watched waves crash against the rocks. I’ve never seen pelican sex.

      But all of those things are real. It’s not even hard to prove.

      Unconditional love is real, miss.

      That’s also not hard to prove.

      And, frankly, as nice as it would be to receive, the real challenge in this life is learning how to GIVE it.

      That’s how we change shit.

      Thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts. I admire your strength and sense of self very much.

      1. I’ve never seen pelican sex, either. Something to put on my bucket list. But I did watch a giraffe pee right in front of me.

  10. ” I don’t give one iota of a shit what the girl I’m meeting thinks of me.”

    Ha! I loved that, Matt. That’s the spirit! That’s also something that makes men rather attractive, so you’re on a great path. It’s true, being authentic, speaking the truth, not caring so much about what people think, really will cause some rejection, some dislike. But it’s also very brave, quite attractive, and really what we all need to do. Dropping the mask is freedom, a bit of empowerment, and it tends to create authentic relationships with others.

    I also really enjoyed your re-telling of the Prodigal son.

    1. I’m not just saying that either. It’s really amazing. Two years ago, I could have never claimed that to be true.

      And it’s really not something I realized until just the past three or four months.

      If honesty is the only way, and telling people the truth causes rejection, then what could EVER be the point in hiding something that’s true? Just to win the approval of someone with whom you could never have a functional relationship anyway?

      It was a very profound self-realization for me.

      And now I don’t have to feel those anxious “Gee, I sure hope she picks me!” feelings, because it just doesn’t matter.

      It either works out, or it doesn’t. And no matter what, it’s good, because the only thing that matters is getting to the thing that DOES work out.

      I may be the only person who never realized this before. But this has been a big deal to me, and I’m not sure why it took me 36 years to figure out.

      The authentic relationship part of all that is really important. Because that’s another thing with dating.

      Authentic and meaningful relationships can be formed even if it doesn’t ultimately lead to love and marriage or whatever.

      I still like forming meaningful and valuable relationships. They make our lives better.

      1. All this said, the disclosure that you really get off by having sex with the theme from FULL HOUSE playing in the background while she screams “How rude!” over and over can probably wait until the second date.

        1. Don’t misquote me, Travis. I clearly said “Fuller House.”


          Made me laugh. Thanks for that.

  11. Beautifully written and so relevant. You have that gift! Keep writing. Keep sharing.

    — blessed, remarried and recently new mom to baby #5

    1. Thank you!

      And congratulations on your new child! It’s flattering you took the time and energy to pay any attention to this at all. I appreciate it very much.

      1. Of course! I gain a lot of insight about my shortcomings and failures by reading, and I hope it makes this Round 2 so much better than the first attempt…
        Cheers 🙂

  12. Matt’s the shiznit. So glad you exist, so glad you write. Nothing but love 🙂

  13. I hope you date women, not girls. That being said, I enjoy your insights. Mark Manson’s blog is one of my favorites, and yours has become a favorite as well.

  14. Hi Matt,
    I love this post and the responses it has generated because it has conflicted me. I mostly like and agree with Zombiedrew2 and Anne’s take on the topic. To me, unconditional love is what a parent feels for their children and vice Versa. To me, expecting unconditional love from a first relationship/marriage (let alone a second or third) is to just set yourself up for failure. I was married for 29 years. The first 20 were wonderful and then circumstances changed. For a long time after the divorce, I felt dreadfully guilty for not being strong enough to have withstood the changes, for not being able to love ‘unconditionally’ yet even after I left I knew that I still loved her, (still do and we’re good friends) just not unconditionally.

    As for expressing your feelings on a take or leave it the basis because you don’t give one iota of a ‘whatever’ about what they think of you is in my view a touch arrogant and discourteous and will set you up for more of the leave it than take it. We are social animals and we all care about what others think of us. We all play roles that will present us in best possible light. To say otherwise is just another role. Playing roles does not mean you have to be a fake, just the role of the best version of who you are. My European heritage (in the form of my family) inflicted that attitude on me for most of my life (and still does today but I am stronger now and can take it for what it is, just their opinion) I never appreciated their candid, brutal honesty, because it always made me feel inadequate and resentful of their disregard of how their often unsought for opinions impacted others.
    It’s hard enough establishing any kind of meaningful relationship through the dating format with some person you barely know being intent on telling you what they do and don’t want, what they will and will not put up with etc. Those bits of information should be divulged tactfully over time as you get to know each other.
    I am big on courteous assertion. Displaying who you are by truly knowing, accepting and being in control of yourself.
    This is just my humble opinion on a great post, hopefully, given with as much tact as I can manage.

    1. Thank you for reading, and for your thoughtful reply, John.

      I hope you caught my response to Drew’s comment. There’s a difference between love and choosing to be in a relationship. It’s up to each individual to decide where the line is for them. I won’t pretend to know what’s best, nor do I make a habit of judging other people’s deeply personal choices.

      You make a very fair comment about how me saying I don’t care what someone thinks of me on a date might come off arrogant.

      I think if you read this blog from the beginning (I’m NOT suggesting you should. The writing isn’t very good) you’d have a better appreciation for my slow transformation from insecure, emotionally beaten-up guy following the divorce, to whatever I am now.

      I wouldn’t call myself totally confident and self-assured, but I’m a hell of a lot closer to that today than I was when this all began. Other than the three years from birth to age 3, no three-year period in my life has included more growth and development than these past three have.

      I trust you’d find me quite the opposite of arrogant should we have the opportunity to meet in-person.

      Tone and context gets lost in all of this.

      Three years ago, I was a total wreck and I whined about it a lot. I was REALLY scared I’d grow old and die alone. I wrote about those fears and the dating experience a fair amount. “Must Be This Tall To Ride” was so named as a metaphor for not being good enough for my ex-wife/online-dating women/myself/whoever.

      And I think there are a lot of people reading who are recently divorced and trying to deal with the fear and sadness and insecurity and whatever else.

      I also think a lot of people have really dramatic and dysfunctional relationships, which is not an ideal way to live.

      And I think this idea of honesty (certainly NOT impoliteness, or brashness, or insulting) can really make a difference for people.

      It’s hard to think of an appropriate example because it’s constantly changing.

      I just think people low on confidence and self-esteem will try to act like the person they believe the person their on a date with will like instead of just BEING THEIR TRUE SELF. We’re constantly conforming.

      I won’t pretend I don’t do it. How I behave with my buddies at a pub or at a fantasy football draft is not the same as I behave on a business lunch, or when I’m meeting someone for the first time.

      I have wildly divergent political beliefs, which in American political terms, makes me a moderate, but in reality I agree with a handful of conservative thinkers on some subjects, and on others, I agree wtih a handful of liberal thinkers.

      It’s good because I can find common ground in any political conversation, but maybe withholding some of my right-leaning views around left-leaning friends (or vice-versa) could be classified as this thing I’m talking about. This inclination many of us have to seek inclusion and acceptance, even if that means not always telling the whole truth. Some people will outright lie in order to win the favor of someone. (See: All candidates for U.S. president)

      Kindness. Politeness. Graciousness. Humility. Patience. Tolerance.

      All of these things should be practiced to a certain degree in our human interactions.

      But for people seeking romantic compatibility — something that can last and be meaningful — I believe VERY strongly that courageously discussing your inner truths is an appropriate and effective means to discover the people we should be building relationships with.

      The best part of doing so is how much better you feel about yourself.

      But maybe that’s just me.

      Thanks for giving me something to think about, John. I’m grateful for your time.

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Matt Fray

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