Blackolives wrote: “Found your Huffpo ‘dishes’ post earlier today. Still laughing at how an appalling number of people didn’t get ‘dishes as metaphor’, and used that to cement classic women-are-irrational narratives. Now I’m going through everything you’ve written about shitty husbands. I feel less alone — it’s weird that a ‘shitty husband’ is having this comforting we-are-not-alone effect on women who are married to good friends/nice guys who also happens to be heartbreakingly bad at marital responsibilities.
“Thank you for all your self-deprecating but also — self-improvement writings — so, I am just — and please forgive me for my own cynicism — I am just wondering if you believe your self-awareness will now impact you in a positive way so that you wouldn’t habitually make those mistakes in a future relationship. I have this belief that, nice people/shitty spouses usually don’t get to self-awareness and introspection because they stay in the bitter/blame the other stage. But you have recognized your active role in the failed relationship — well done. Is that enough to create enough change in active participation in relationships? I believe most of us aren’t resilient enough to constantly fight against our instincts — in the case of the shitty husbands you describe — stubbornness and belief that if you don’t think it’s important, she’s overreacting, and that makes you not ‘feel like’ doing whatever it is.
“(I have been criticized for believing [most] people don’t [not can’t] change — having wasted a considerable chunk of my life on emotionally abusive immediate family members and a nice-guy/shitty husband, which cemented a narrative of ‘people don’t change’ in me. People will always prefer being right. Me included. I’d be so pissed if everyone did 180s and became fabulously self-aware and innately empathic :)”
There is some mathematical probability that I’ll divorce again or suffer a tough breakup resulting from my personality, habits or behavior causing problems.
Blackolives’ experience tells her that people don’t change, so she asks a fair question: “Do you believe your self-awareness will now impact you in a positive way so that you wouldn’t habitually make those mistakes in a future relationship?” and “You have recognized your active role in the failed relationship — well done. Is that enough to create enough change in active participation in relationships? I believe most of us aren’t resilient enough to constantly fight against our instincts — in the case of the shitty husbands you describe — stubbornness and belief that if you don’t think it’s important, she’s overreacting, and that makes you not ‘feel like’ doing whatever it is.”
I’ve had several bouts of fear with these questions in my three years of post-divorce reflection.
I know that it’s less expensive and generally healthier to cook at home than to eat out all the time. But because I don’t like cooking for one, and because my life is busier than it has ever been and don’t like grocery shopping as much as I once did, I often eat out.
I know that having a book published will give me a greater feeling of accomplishment than anything I’ve done as it’s long been a dream of mine, yet EVERY DAY, many of my choices would seem to prioritize other things ahead of book progress.
I know about MANY things I could or should do to improve my life, yet I sometimes make choices that work against me.
I’m a pretty reflective and self-aware guy. So, yeah—I’ve asked myself the question: What if BEING ME is, in and of itself, something that kills love and relationships? What if I’m, ultimately, not cut out for marriage?
The Power of Awareness
I shared this last week, but it’s so powerful, I want to do so again.
From the mind of the late novelist David Foster Wallace: “There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys, how’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’”
There is ENORMOUS power in the simple concept of awareness.
I posit—sometimes to the disbelief of wives currently or formerly married to guys like me—that men can go YEARS hearing their wives repeat themselves about how something like leaving socks on the bedroom floor can inflict physical, emotional pain and HAVE NO IDEA that it’s actually happening.
I understand how bizarrely oblivious and neglectful that might sound to someone who has been painfully and frustratingly living on the opposite end of those relationships.
But, since I actually lived this, I know it’s true. We don’t always get it until she walks out the door.
Wow. She totally meant what she said all those hundreds of times.
Put simply: Good men can be bad husbands, because it’s not always about character. It’s about awareness, relationship skills, and making the choice to apply those skills in a way consistent with loving and respecting our partner.
One of the advantages I will have in my next relationship, is that I’m HYPER-aware of these things. Writing, thinking and talking about these ideas often certainly helps because these things are top of mind for me.
In the future, a lack of awareness will not be my downfall, though it may be a huge factor for others.
The Power of Habit
Much of our lives—nearly 40 percent!—are comprised of things we do out of habit.
Or, you might say, thoughtlessly.
I have some bad habits, including biting my fingernails. I think about how disgusting and unattractive it is every day, yet I probably bite one of my nails at least once every day. No part of my nail-biting habit is me thoughtfully going: Hmmm. If I bite my nails right now, I’ll get to enjoy some gross microscopic germs hiding under them and have uglier hands afterward! Awesome!
I just bite the damn things and sort of realize it later.
Maybe poor relationship habits are that way too. Maybe much of what we do to hurt those we love—or at least much of what I do—are byproducts of bad habits.
I believe that when I choose to love someone for the rest of my life, that I’ve now been through enough divorce horribleness, and possess enough sensitivity, self-awareness and knowledge to remain aware and not let unrestrained bad habits cause it to crash and burn.
But, it’s a nagging thought and concern. One I probably worry about too much.
And it’s probably something many people don’t worry about enough, and it will ultimately lead to their divorce and a bunch of other sad and uncomfortable things.
I don’t own any crystal balls. I’m a good guesser, but still guess wrong sometimes.
I may—in the context of marriage—be fatally flawed.
Blackolives doesn’t believe necessarily that people change.
But I know they sometimes do. Because I’ve changed.
If I ever suffer through another divorce or bad breakup, it’s not going to be because I was a victim of circumstance with no power to influence the outcome. It’s not going to be because I’m some oblivious dumbass with his head in the sand.
It will be because I chose selfishness over selflessness. It will be because I chose easy over difficult. It will be because I chose lazy over love.
There’s always a chance that could happen. Anything’s possible.
But I’m betting on hope. On change. On me.
Maybe others will bet on themselves too.