Maybe This is How My Wife Felt

Comments 57

Bill Murray throws golf club
I want to quit my job even though I like many things about it.

It’s not just because I find traditionally structured 9-to-5s to be wholly dissatisfying, but because there aren’t cool-enough bosses (mine are mostly awesome) nor enough money in the world (I do okay) to buy my unquestioning loyalty.

In military, law enforcement, firefighting ladder companies, mountain climbing teams, space shuttle crews, and other applications, you’ll find an established chain of command. Not following—or even questioning—orders can be the difference between life and death. I understand this and have a fundamental respect for leadership structures and believe people in management deserve a modicum of respect by virtue of that chain of command.

The stakes tend to be less in for-profit business. I work for a private company. We sell things no one needs, but many people want. For better or worse, the bottom line is the bottom line, though our corporate culture is particularly people-friendly and community-minded.

By all appearances, inside and out, it’s an excellent company that is No. 1 in its market globally, has a reputation for being professional with customers and business partners, and has as many multi-decade employees as I’ve ever seen. I still want to quit.

I like my bosses and the vast majority of my co-workers. I still want to quit.

I like the actual internet marketing work I do and try to improve my craft every day. But I still want to quit.

And I think maybe there are a bunch of parallels here to how wives and mothers feel about their married lives, sharing homes with their husbands and children, and doing her best to raise good kids in a life where she’s being pulled in so many different directions.

I think maybe I feel about my job the way, in the end, my wife felt about me.

On Loyalty and Effort

I didn’t just accept this job five years ago because it seemed better than my old job, and come into it with a ho-hum work ethic and mindset.

This job, in many ways, saved my life.

On Jan. 1, 2010, I became another in a long line of laid-off newspaper reporters following the 2008 economic implosion. And because I’m never intentionally masochistic, I chose to move on from my journalism career and find another way to make money. I was jobless for 18 months, freaking out because I had a toddler son at home and a wife who clearly was not digging being married to an unemployable loser. I made money freelance writing, but with child and family healthcare costs, I needed to find something steady with a benefits package.

Eventually, I was hired into one of my company’s coolest and fastest-growing departments, and work with a bunch of good, smart people.

I went from total loser, to well-paid guy with a seat at the table for macro-level conversations about business strategy, overnight.

This job gives me the money to pay for my home and Jeep, and the money to support my son.

This job provided something steady during my divorce.

This job introduced me to friends I hope I’ll have forever.

This job gave me a real-world laboratory to study marketing and human behavior, and gave me a front-row seat to the constantly changing digital world where it’s sometimes hard to keep up.

I am grateful for this job. I LIKE my job. 

But I still want to quit.

And if my next career move wasn’t going to be me jumping off into entrepreneurial waters, maybe I’d already be gone.


Because the leadership at my company despite their best intentions are the business-world equivalent of shitty husbands, and no matter how many good things there are to appreciate and admire about them, I have—in metaphorical-relationship terms—transitioned to Apathetic Robot Wife mode, and recently realized: I’m done.

I’m done because I don’t care enough anymore. And the leadership at my company, even though they do so many good things for us and create a mostly nice place to work, is the reason why.

Husband: ‘Why Are You Doing This To Me?’

“Um. You did this to yourself,” she replies.

I was hired by my company to do a job. I write things—website copy, emails, blog posts—designed sometimes to educate and inform existing or potential customers, and sometimes to provide a very specific sales call to action. Buy this awesome thing right now!

They give me money in exchange for these services where I’d like to believe I make them a lot more money than I’m paid.

Like a newlywed bride, I was totally psyched to be here five years ago. I devoted a lot of time and energy to honing my craft, studying its impact, and generating new ideas. I felt emotionally invested in my work, proud of my contribution, and passionately spoke up in meetings about doing things “the right way” as I perceived them. Best practices = Success. I really believe that.

I came in early and stayed late. I poured myself into the work knowing I could make positive contributions, studying results, and always striving for incremental improvement.

Because in the digital world we can measure with decent precision the performance of a marketing email send, or blog post, or social media engagement, or web traffic, we don’t always have to guess how our customers respond to our work.

We often can see that doing X generates good results and more sales, and that doing Y does not.

My switch flipped to No-More-Fucks-Left-To-Give mode when my bosses made crappy decisions that costs us money for political and ego reasons, despite evidence supporting our protests.

Then we tried one more time and it happened again.

Surely, we’ll go back to doing the right thing with this overwhelming evidence we’re sabotaging our efforts, I thought.

And then it didn’t. And that’s when I felt a part of me shut off.

Okay, dicks. Have it your way.

One of my jobs is to write emails. Some people further up the corporate food chain probably don’t think it’s super-important. Kind of like how some husband feels about his wife’s efforts to keep the kitchen clean.

Our company makes a lot of money, so as a percentage, any individual email I write—some of which generate more in 48 hours than my annual salary—still might not register much with upper management.

Nonetheless, what I love about email marketing is that I can measure my impact on the company. If I write a subject line that gets 18 percent of people to open it and 2 percent of people to click to our website, that’s worth a certain amount of money. If I write a better subject line and copy, I might move 23 percent to open that email and 4 percent to click through. Over time, those incremental improvements are what I live for, professionally. I fight for those inches. If my effort and creativity improves those numbers just a point or two every large-scale email, over the course of a year, it means we sold a lot more stuff, and we make a lot more money, and I feel good when that happens.

I care. Not because they’ll give me a big raise if I do this. (They won’t.) Not because I’ll receive recognition or pats on the back outside of my annual review. (I will not.)

It’s because I take pride in my work, and I want to do it well. It’s because I’m part of something, and am invested in our success. It’s because I feel loyal, and it is my pleasure to make meaningful contributions.

I can live with the fact that no matter how hard I work, I’ll get little more than cost-of-living raises.

I can live with the fact that no matter how little someone else works, they will too.

I can live with the fact that I have to wear crappy business casual clothes that are neither casual nor particularly nice or professional like a good little cubicle soldier.

I can live with the fact that even though I can do my job from any internet-connected computer in the world, I’m not allowed to work elsewhere.

But I can’t live with the people I’m supposed to respect being given evidence their decisions cost us money and sabotage our work, and then watch them choose to stay the course.

They’re Not Doing It Purposefully

Making us feel shitty about our jobs, I mean. They’re not. They don’t know they’re doing it.

They’re good people. I’m sure if they REALLY UNDERSTOOD how their decisions affected the rest of us on a psychological and emotional level, they’d maybe do things differently. 

But they don’t get it. They expect us to work just as hard on the next project even though we know it can’t perform as well as it should. They expect me to care like I always have. They probably think because I no longer argue as passionately as I once did that I’m totally satisfied with things here.

Then, it hit me: My bosses are husbands who leave dishes by the sink.

And some of my co-workers and I are the wives who finally have had enough. I can’t keep giving THIS much of a shit for something that doesn’t reward the effort.

Maybe this isn’t what’s happening. Maybe they’re NOT stubbornly clinging to their I’m-The-Boss egos. Maybe they really believe they’re doing the right thing, and maybe they’re totally oblivious about how that impacts our job satisfaction, work performance, and office culture.

But if sure-as-shit FEELS like they’re intentionally doing things that undermine our efforts.

I could take it the first time. It didn’t faze me.

I could take it the first hundred times. There’s so much good here to be grateful for.

I could take it the first thousand times, even as frustration mounted.

But somewhere along the way, one of my bosses left one too many “dishes” by the sink.

And now things will never be the same.

I’ll write their things because they give me money to do so. But I used to write things with an attitude of wanting to give more than I take. That’s gone now, and I wish it wasn’t.

I want to believe in unconditional love in marriage, but I now understand there will always be some conditions.

If you wake up every morning, and your partner says to you “Hey! You’re a stupid, ugly asshole!,” and then punches you in the face, there are a finite number of times you’ll stand there taking the verbal and physical punch.

Sometimes, love dies.

I’m not sad about my job. I’m maybe a tiny bit angry. Mostly, I’m apathetic.

And no matter how comfortable I am, or how many fond memories I have, or how much I like and appreciate my job and wish things were different, I’m done now.

I don’t know whether I’ll leave in three or six months, or in one or two years. But I am leaving.

In my heart and mind, I’m already gone.

And no, the irony isn’t lost on me.

57 thoughts on “Maybe This is How My Wife Felt”

  1. This is so good.

    My husband not only left dishes by the sink he also had an affair. Nearly 3 years later, he still sneaking around – why am I sticking around for this shit? Like you said so well ‘In my heart and mind, I’m already gone’

  2. I have wondered a million times why the husband can be so productive and detail oriented in his work but not at home. I have thought a million times that if the husband worked at work like he does at home, he would be fired. I have fought a million times for him to treat my bill paying business like he treats his bill paying business. And I have been so discouraged reading men’s knee jerk “don’t tell me what to do” when the wives complain about the true, real, soul destroying inequity, just like it all comes down to a personal, emotional fight. Yep, I just said it. Men are SOOOO emotional!

  3. For me that moment came when I realized that my boss doesn’t understand my position’s daily tasks. That’s kind of crucial for her to understand whether or not I’m performing it well.

  4. To one degree or another, I love all of your posts, but upon occasion, you write one that’s gold medal quality, a standard-setter, one for which it would be downright criminal if it were to eventually sink into the forgotten murk of the archives.

    This is one of those posts.

    This is a post that takes the female experience that is often so very alien to the way we men think and frames it in such a way where only the so-called 1% could still claim to not relate.

    I’m sorry for how you feel about your job. I relate–the same crash-and-burn happened to me with a previous employer after 11 1/2 years of committed, impassioned effort on my part, and I’ve carried the scars of it into my current job. As long as I remain in Corporate America, any/every employer I work for will never get the best I have to give because I’m fundamentally convinced now that all of them are/will be shitty husbands. And I hate that such an important part of my character, my self-actualization, has been forever poisoned. But as is your talent, even in the midst of your misery, you’ve managed to turn it into something of powerful worth with what you’ve written here today.

  5. emilyvaillpfaff

    And so what about your employer who might read your blog post and realize, hey, he’s right? (Do you block them somehow?? 😉 Do they say, yes, we are the ones repetitively doing things that are upsetting, thoughtless, and counterproductive, undermining what our staff is doing, costing the company money, and devaluing them and their hard work? or are they in denial.

    Do they value your input and perspective, or do they walk you out this afternoon, instead of allowing you to leave on your own schedule, if you do indeed leave? Marriages, like businesses, are human systems that die or thrive (or bump along) on the healthy relationships and interactions that exist, or not. Is this relationship you have with your workplace and colleagues salvageable? You sound like you’ve already checked out. And honestly, you are doing so much good for so many of us out here, I can imagine that this is a whole lot more fulfilling than your “day job”.

    I think it comes down to gratitude. If the life partner isn’t grateful, appreciative, and recognizing of the other’s feelings and efforts to keep and care for them and their kids, or if the employer doesn’t convey gratitude to employees either directly or in subsequent decision-making, then it’s probably done. Besides, you’ll be really busy on book tours and doing Ellen.

    1. I don’t think he’ll be doing Ellen.

      Oh, you mean going on her show. Never mind then.

  6. Beautiful, Matt. Also I really needed to hear this right now. I have a job I really love, but it is like being stuck in a bad romance. I quit caring long ago because they just won’t let me care. My husband is awesome, he’s a good thing, but with my job I’m a bit like an abuse victim. I can’t leave and I can’t stay but if I don’t do something soon I’m going to lose my mind.

    So at the moment I really empathize with women (and some men) who are trapped in bad relationships, who just don’t care anymore, who have already left in mind and spirit. I can relate to what that is like. With hubby I care, we can make it through hard times, we’ve got that foundation between us , but with the job, there’s just no me in the equation anymore.

  7. Boy do I resonate on this one! Matt, I assumed straight away that you worked remotely; that’s just how I imagined you working in your sweatpants, white tee shirt, and disheveled hair. Anyway, for some reason I think THAT arrangement would be infinitely more satisfying for you. Let me know if you need some leads on that. I’ve got a fairly good golden list of companies that are either 100% distributed teams or mostly distributed.

    1. Butting in here quick…any chance you have some connections in either the construction, construction law or general legal arenas we could discuss offline? In conjunction with my divorce and relocation I’m in the market for someone open to me working remotely. Thanks!!

  8. Love this!

    Love the comparison, love the empathy you’ve developed so that the irony isn’t lost on you, love that this post may just help someone have their come to Jesus moment. I hope this goes viral (I hope that about a lot of your posts).

    I remember when I realized how I’d really been shitty and hurtful in some serious ways in my life…even while judging and hating how someone else had done that to me (not the exact same thing, but that doesn’t matter).

    …and it is just incredible to me that your company has done this more than a thousand times (a few times I get, we all make mistakes and everyhting). WHY?! HOW?!
    Don’t they care about their own money?!?! WTF?!

    1. Thank you!

      It’s a really large place, and my perception of the company making a mistake might be someone else’s perception of them making a strategic decision, big or small.

      I have to account for the fact that not everyone will see things my way, and that leadership has a different set of criteria to work from than I do.

      I try to maintain the “I never know everything” perspective. It helps.

      But the final point — that I can understand a bit better how to go through the motions and capably perform the logistics of a certain role, but mentally and emotionally be in a different place than I once was.

      And it’s not hard to see how wives can go through that process at home. It’s never just one moment. It’s the piling up of so many, time after time. And one day, something breaks on the inside. And then things can never be the same.

  9. I like this post, in a sad and not far from my own beaten path kind of way. I’m a stay at home mom with 7 kids, four of which still live at home, one being a year old.
    It’s so easy to get caught up in the day to day ‘crap’ that after a good long while I wake and think ‘What the heck am I doing? Nothing. Just going through the motions’. It is hard sometimes. But for me, my commitment cones into play because of my kids, my husband, my choice to love all of it and them in spite of myself or my feelings. Seasons change in life, in marriage, but for me…my promise is just that-a promise. No matter the season I stay.
    When I had a job outside of mom, I quit because I was unhappy and deserved a respect I wasn’t shown…but I never promised to stay forever. Just my two cents.
    Things will get better Matt. I do hope that between now and a new season with a new job, you make the best of it for yourself. You’re a good guy and I hope your employers see that sooner rather than later.

    1. They don’t treat me poorly. Not one bit.

      I just don’t always agree with the way things are done, and in the context of career, I think that can be a bit like how emotional connection works in the context of relationships.

      But the parellels aren’t exactly apples to apples.

      I have a good job at a good company with good people, and no one has ever heard me say otherwise.

      Most of what ails the place are universal to large companies and office dynamics.

      In the world of relativism, this is a place that gets way more right than it does wrong.

      It’s not their fault I want to be mobile.

  10. I’m that wife married to that middle manager. The only other person who comes close to understanding how I feel is his work wife. Your analogy is spot on and I’ve often wondered if the unsatisfied man at home behaves similarly on the clock. Or doors it happen the other way around? And how relative is it all to mid-life (because I really do think mine is having dine dirty off crisis)? I’ve always said “once ‘it’ feels like a job, I’m out” whatever ‘it’ is. Yes, it’s cliche but life really IS too short.

    1. Oh my, I should learn to proofread before posting. Let’s try this again – Does it happen in reverse – is the unhappy worker the eventually-crappy husband who doesn’t give a shit about the dishes because he’s really just passing the lack-of-respect on down through the organizational chart? Kinda makes you wonder how many shitty bosses with shitty employees have shitty marriages and how many of them have no real clue where all that shitty stems from. Or like I tried to say in my case could it be a matter of mid-life crisis…is it the whole “what the hell is my purpose? What is the purpose of life? I thought I’d be happy once I had a paycheck and a nameplate on the cubicle or door and a wife at home waiting for me but this shits just sucks and money isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…” and dude just wants to shit can it all, run off to the mountains and live without pants. Because, THAT is a thing. I’m certain of it. (the wanting to do it, not the doing it…but maybe that too exists)

  11. My church is my shitty husband. I love it, but…
    Sincerely, inspite of all the good qualities that it has, and the life that it does occasionally bring, it is hard to hold on to those things when you keep looking at it and see a brick wall.

    Sometime in the last 5 or 6 years I’ve gotten terrified to move on(Not just my church, but the smallish town I live in) . I go to the metaphorical edge, and then look back, loosing my resolve. (There really are alot of things I love here.) The Sunken Cost article spelled out some things pretty clearly for me. Who knows if I will take the plunge and move.

    For me,It brings up this question though, this tension or play between do we take responsibility and act in order to change our lives (circumstances) vs. do we to learn to love the broken things that make up our lives. Is that the same as settling?

    I’ve heard this theme over and over again here. There is a tug of war between sticking to trying to reinforce boundaries (insisting on a change) vs. and empathy and love (accepting what is, practicing gratitude and grace). I think ZombieDrew touched on it a few articles back. Would you mind giving a refresher?

    I was also reviewing my text book about levels of insight for psychiatric patients. I think it really pegged Matt and the work he has done. True emotional insight requires “emotional awareness of the motives and feelings within (yourself) and the important persons in (your) life, which can lead to basic changes in behavior.” While Intellectual insight is “an admission that the…failures in social adjustment are caused by the pt.s own particular irrational feelings or disturbances without applying this knowledge to future experiences.”

    I think that could be read to mean that the person just hasnt taken responsibility to act on what they intellectually know. And sometimes that may be true, but I think 1.) most of us go up and down from the first to the second depending on the day, the situation ect. And 2.) I think there is some element that is outside of the patients (opps, ours, too.:) control. It’s even in the naming of the levels- TRUE EMOTIONAL INSIGHT. Finally getting it, really getting it, is on a completely different level than just intellectual ascent.
    It’s emotional knowing. It takes alot to get there, and only just begins by first (especially for men) getting back in contact with the fact that they have emotions, and then getting to know themselves in them…corporations, organizations, I dont know if they can ever get to emotional knowing (my thought is probably not).
    So, I’m wondering how do we apply this once we realize we may never escape shitty husbands in our lives? Work, school, church, spouses.., they can all be shitty husbands
    … I wonder if it is proportion to our level of connection and dependence on them?

  12. Oh, Dear.
    “In my heart and mind, I’m already gone.”
    This post is perfect and could be the one that men “get,” via the analogy. If only they could read it independently of the shitty husband posts, then come to those later.
    Great sugar water.

    1. Thank you for thinking it matters. I do think it’s a relevant analogy, at least in the way it pertains to my own life.

  13. When you care so much about your work and get mega emotional return on investment (knowing you are making a difference), the crash, when it happens, takes you down so hard.

    Having an avocation (this blog) can save your mind and your wallet. Give your creativity and enthusiasm to what you love, and do your job to get your pay.

    You will get the emotional atta-boys (of which this is one) from those who really care what you write. Who say you are making a difference in their lives. Because you are. Every day.

    You don’t get coin from that, so keep the EDJ (what we romance authors call the Evil Day Job) until you have something better lined up — be strategic.

    And during those commutes home, release the negativity from your EDJ and take in the wealth of spirit you receive from this.

    I add my thanks to Travis B for pointing out this is the perfect way to explain what spouses feel about the ‘dish by the sink’. This blog should be required reading for everyone taking a pre-marriage course. (If they are still required by religious organizations)

    1. The content of this blog represents the type of writing I WANT to do, and my day job grants me the luxury of being able to do so.

      I’m very blessed that I get to.

      Thank you for the support and the kind words.

      I absolutely “take in the wealth of spirit” I receive from the incredibly kind feedback I get here most of the time, including from you now.

      Thank you, Reece.

  14. Appreciative Reader

    Dear Matt,
    A brilliant post. I have read everything on your blog going back to your first writings. This ties so much together. You really are extremely talented. Your writing touches so many truths, but in a funny, down to earth, easy to understand way. Yet, you are writing about very complicated emotions and feelings and difficult events. It’s such a pleasure to read your work, but I always learn something. This one is profound on many levels. Put it somewhere in your blog under a different heading with your dishes post. And I was thrilled to see you in Huffington Post Sunday. It was like seeing a friend on the webpage. I let out a happy cheer. Your writing should be recognized. Thank you for putting it all out there. For me, it’s like water for someone dying of thirst. It means that much.

    1. That’s obviously too nice, but thank you so much.

      I’ve written a lot of stuff here over the past three years, and it’s interesting to imagine people having followed along all this time.

      I appreciate it very much.

      I have more people reading this stuff in more places than I could have ever imagined when I started word-vomiting on the internet in Summer 2013.

      The longer it goes on, the more people seem to pay attention. I still don’t really get it, but I’m just going to feel grateful that someone cares and not worry so much about the “why.”

      Even though the number of people reading has grown, there are dozens, maybe hundreds of people who stopped reading long ago.

      Maybe they didn’t want to read about divorce and relationships anymore. Maybe they didn’t like it once I stopped feeling horrible every day. Maybe they just found something better to do.

      But, you notice when people go missing.

      It’s very meaningful to me that you’ve been here all this time. It was kind of you to take time to say so.

      Thank you.

  15. Insightful, painful, truthful writing. That’s also probably the reason it hurts so much reading it.

  16. Matt,

    Your ability to understand big, ethereal concepts and give examples of how it must have felt from the other side is really a gift, a true gem. Everything we do has a potential to teach us something. Taking a job you have dedicated yourself to and realizing your own lackluster attitude, then comparing the feeling to your marriage…exemplary, poignant and brave. Thank you for always sharing from a place of curiosity and gratitude ??

  17. Your post rings true for so many.
    The work paradigm is shifting (or maybe I am).
    Excellent writing- hope your colleagues do not subscribe to this blog 🙂

    1. I hope they don’t either, Wendy, though this isn’t something I’d be afraid to discuss with my bosses. They’re good men. Good men who know I have side-business pursuits. But I’d prefer them not read me complain about it on the internet or suggest that I’ve checked out.

      So long as I work here, they deserve a solid effort from me, and they’ll get it. But my days of long-term planning and passionate investment?


  18. I so appreciate your point of view and your unique and inventive way of expressing it. I am that apathetic wife. It isn’t worth the effort. Separation only served to show the difficult impact on my kids. We do not fight, again it is apathetic. He appears content. I tried getting him to read your blog. At first he called it bs. Later, when he realized I was still reading it he conceded some valid points, but refuses to pursue reading and discussing it. So, you give me something to thoroughly enjoy, while I bide my time.

    1. Thank you for wanting him to read things you’ve read here because you think it matters.

      I would have called most of this stuff bullshit, too. I had “enough to worry about.” I didn’t need my wife “inventing problems that weren’t really there.”

      It’s all so common and predictable.

      It often takes a lot for men to challenge their own beliefs. It often requires humility earned after being bloodied, metaphorically or otherwise.

  19. Quote:
    “It’s because I take pride in my work, and I want to do it well….
    I can live with the fact that I have to wear crappy business casual clothes that are neither casual nor particularly nice or professional like a good little cubicle soldier.
    I can live with the fact that even though I can do my job from any internet-connected computer in the world, I’m not allowed to work elsewhere.
    But I can’t live with the people I’m supposed to respect being given evidence their decisions cost us money and sabotage our work, and then watch them choose to stay the course.”

    Do you work at my job? Because this is, nearly verbatim, the conversation I’ve had with my wife for months now… Wow…

    1. Sorry that I “liked” this.

      It’s just nice to know other people get it. Excellent company. Excellent job. Great people.

      But I have ZERO tolerance for “this is just the way we do things” and “because I said so” answers to my/our questions.

      When you have evidence there’s a better way (in every imaginable area of life), you better damn well do it the better way.

      Otherwise, somehow, some way, things start to break.

      Thanks for taking time to read and comment, Darrell. Hope you’re well.

  20. My husband felt the same about that job and he quit it a month ago. And he quit it not only because of the things you said above but because doing his job the way his boss wanted meant endangering human lives and he couldn’t do it anymore. And it’s ironic, because my husband is THAT boss at home. A company’s “this is the way we do things” is his “this is the way that I am”. Every time that he’d come home complaining about his work I’d be thinking to myself- “that is how I feel here with you”.

    1. Our lack of self-awareness is, at times, staggering.

      I hope there comes a day where you don’t feel that way anymore, Sylvia.

        1. Your spectacular historical reference overshadows the ughhhhhhhh-ness of what you’re going through.

          I’m sorry.

          The Mt. Vesuvius reference is an instant classic, though.

  21. Matt,
    My main question is how did you keep yourself from becoming bitter toward life and women? Not all men (or people) seem to recover from the line in the sand their spouse may have drawn due to the belief there is “evidence there’s a better way”. My spouse is now stuck in bitterness toward me and women in general (because of my audacity to expose that we were doing it wrong). All in all, he would have preferred to have kept his head in the sand it seems. Just wondering from a man’s perspective what keeps some in the game and others eager to jump into a world of solitude and hate after being hurt.

    1. Hi Lilly.

      That’s an interesting question. Learning about empathy and what that actually means is probably the most important concept I’ve learned following my divorce.

      I still have a very long way to go, but I’ve made significant strides.

      Because of this newfound ability, I understand and respect that every other guy is not me.

      With the exception of severe mental illness and non-sobriety, I believe that when a person shares an honest story about WHY they believe, think and feel the things that they do, a reasonably honest and empathetic person should be able to connect those dots and understand how the other person arrived at the life conclusions they did.

      It might sound like a copout, but I don’t mean for it to. I WANT every guy to totally agree with me and start doing what I think is best because I think marriage and relationships, as a whole would improve overnight. (Might not be true. I’m just guessing, and I’m wrong sometimes.)

      But that won’t happen. I know that it won’t. I know that only a certain percentage of men will ever share enough commonalities with me in terms of life experience, education, emotional makeup, personality type, etc. to draw some of the same conclusions I have.

      I mostly write for them. Those faceless unknowns who I’m certain exist because I sometimes hear from them.

      That was my wordy disclaimer before answering your question, designed to say “This only applies to me, and the vast majority of other people aren’t anything like me, so it probably doesn’t matter that much.”

      You asked: “… how did you keep yourself from becoming bitter toward life and women?”

      I faked it at first.

      I WAS bitter toward life. Not women, I don’t think, though I was poisoned by cynicism and wallowing in Woe-is-Me-ism for a little bit. It was pathetic.

      The early days were dark ones. I didn’t want to die, but for the first and only time ever, I didn’t care whether I did. Everything hurt — head and body — every second of every day with lousy sleep and haunting dreams for several weeks and months.

      It was unsustainable, and I can’t be sure what I’d be doing today if those feelings had persisted.

      They did not.

      Some percentage of the healing came because of the passage of time. I think most people heal if they just keep breathing and stay alive. Like any wound, there might be scar tissue. But the body mends. And you keep on living.

      And some percentage came because of all of the self-improvement work I was doing.

      I had been alive 33 years, and had NEVER intentionally set out to make myself a better human being.

      But now I was. I felt like I’d spent a lifetime blind, but finally could “see.”

      I was able to identify all of these self-sabotaging things I thought and felt and did, and tried to learn how to be better.

      I started reading a lot more with an emphasis on information to make me smarter, healthier, and more capable of whatever.

      It was a bit intoxicating at first.

      While not many people were reading the blog in the early days, it was still a place for me to pass along some of these ideas to others, and when combined with my divorce story, could provide relatable examples of how the common marriage breaks down. I am highly motivated to not see that happen to other people. The sharing of those stories was extraordinarily therapeutic, cathartic, [insert super-healing word here].

      I had really excellent parents who loved me (still do) and whose selfless intentions to make my life the best it can be have NEVER been in question.

      I have really excellent, loving, predominantly functional extended family members. They are very good, loving people who made me feel special and cared for throughout childhood and into adulthood.

      I have awesome friends. I don’t see or talk to most of them because they’re scattered all over the damn place, but I love them and miss them and when we get together, it’s always fantastic.

      I grew up in a nice, safe town with nice people. I currently live in a reasonably nice, safe town with nice people.

      Throughout my life, there was a reasonable expectation that, when I woke up in the morning, today would be a good day.

      I spent my entire life taking THAT for granted. Do you know how much the wealthy would pay for that? To wake up optimistic every day because the vast majority of their human experience was positive?

      That was my life. I didn’t have money and things and impressive life experiences.

      But I had THAT.

      It’s a priceless and incalculably valuable gift I was given. I did not earn it.

      But because I was young and couldn’t know what I didn’t know, I didn’t actively appreciate that charmed state of being.

      And then, BOOM. Marriage falls apart. Woman I love leaves. Son I love more than life itself goes away half the time at EXACTLY the same age I was when my mom and dad divorced when I was 4.

      The psychological and emotional fallout is impossible to describe, though I’ve tried. Only the people who lived through something similar get it, though. Sadly, too many have.

      My default state of being for most of my life was one of hope and optimism. Hope and optimism that was always rewarded because things always tended to work out for me, even when there were some disappointments along the way.

      Bitter toward life?

      This is going to sound silly, but it’s basically mathematically impossible for us to be alive.

      The mathematical odds of the Earth’s relation to the sun and the millions of years of life formation on this planet, and then all of the things that can kill our fragile bodies, including birth, where the doctors at an Iowa hospital told my parents I probably wasn’t going to make it around 5 a.m. one morning in 1979.

      But then I did.

      And everyone else did, too. It’s, like, IMPOSSIBLE that we’re here and alive and conscious and able to have this conversation.

      It’s a miracle. It’s a damn miracle, Lilly.


      Life is a song.

      And laughing is always better than crying. And love is always better than hate. And forgiveness is always better than guilt/anger/resentment. And redemption is always better than shame.

      When I wake up in the morning, there’s a chance I’ll have a blah, crappy day. There’s always that chance.

      But on the other hand? There’s always the chance it’s going to be the day that the greatest thing that ever happens to me, will happen. There’s a chance it will be the best day of my life.

      Even if it’s not, maybe I’ll have an amazing father-son moment. Share a really kick-ass kiss. Laugh until my cheeks hurt. Learn a new life secret that makes everything better. Exchange important feelings with the people I love. Write something here that resonates with human beings around the world, and who write me nice things to tell me that it does.

      Among all that shit is the perfect combination of “stuff” that makes me me, and not the guy who gets bitter and angry.

      Being bitter and angry is horrible and feels bad.

      Being content and grateful is amazing and feels good.

      To me, there’s no choice at all.

      We can live in the darkness, or try our best to light it up.

      And I choose the latter.

      When we decide to make today better than yesterday, and tomorrow better than today, that’s exactly what happens.

      I love life and people. I choose hope.

      1. This.

        This comment is my new favorite post.

        I subscribed to MBTTTR when the Dishes post was making the rounds in Facebook. I no longer read new posts when I see the notifications, but I save them like chocolate. For when I’m ready to savor the words. I think this ^ is why.

  22. Spot on once again. This appeals to me not just as half of a couple, but as an HR person. Interestingly, when I’ve done engagement surveys, the highest level of dissatisfaction seems to be in that “2-7 years of service” set. And you line that up with the “seven year itch” and it makes one want to step back and examine what’s really going on here.

    Lack of engagement is costly – at work AND at home.

    1. That is interesting.

      One wonders whether the significance lies within that general time frame, or whether a certain type of person with a propensity for restlessness is more likely to change jobs and/or divorce in that same time window.

      1. I think it makes sense – isn’t the honeymoon period generally up to 2 years? I think that’s just a biological, cyclical dealio with humans, maybe, to be bored/dissatisfied in that window of time. Then your personal resilience for change will dictate the actual action (stay or go). Maybe?

    2. Maybe it has to do with how long it takes a person to ‘fill up’ with dissatisfaction. A bathtub can hold a lot of water but left unattended long enough it’s going to overflow. Different makes & models installed in different homes in different climates are all going to have a similar capacity for holding water.

  23. Ahem. The “honeymoon phase,” is really a bit of a myth having little basis in truth. It is about as nonsensical as declaring the 7 year itch. Of course things change and ebb and flow and life happens to us, but I am on a mission to erase the idea of the “honeymoon phase.” Honest to goodness, our marriage has just gotten better and better each year.

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Matt Fray

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