The Other Law of Attraction: Self-Worth and Gender Identity in a Mixed-Up World

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What is this? Is it good? Bad? Valuable? Who gets to decide? (Artwork by Wassily Kandinsky)
What is this? Is it good? Bad? Valuable? Who gets to decide? (Artwork by Wassily Kandinsky)

What do women want?

I think many guys started kicking the question around long before possessing the intellectual capacity to connect those random and inconvenient erections to their sexuality.

What will make her like me?

Because that’s really important to us when we’re young. Is it because we like being liked? Is it because we like feeling accepted by another in a more intimate way than platonic friendship? Is it because we think it’s cool to have a girlfriend, and maybe our guy friends will respect us more, and the other girls will want us more?

But I think these are questions that, to varying degrees depending on an individual’s particular circumstances, men ask themselves constantly. I perceive the vast majority of (heterosexual) men, regardless of their relationship status, to crave the He’s Attractive to Me label from as many women as possible.

I believe we view it as a measure of our self-worth. That if women find us attractive, we’ve really accomplished something. Men have been known to crave financial success, social status, material accumulation, career advancement, fame or recognition, respect, achievement in athletics or other competitive ventures, and physical fitness.

There are MANY good and virtuous reasons to crave some or all of those things.

But I think when we scrape off all the Pretending, we’ll discover that the ultimate motivation is usually: “I want women to think of me as attractive and want me, sexually. Because that’s what will most improve my status and standing in the eyes of others. And what other people think of me is very important and influences all of my decisions.”

What do men want, and what will make him like me?

I don’t know how girls commonly experience this attraction/social/sexual awakening, nor how much they value what boys want and why, nor to what extent that carries through to adulthood.

But there appears to be little room for doubt that most women share, while perhaps framed differently and motivated by different wants or needs, men’s cravings for romantic and/or sexual interest, and care intensely about how others perceive them.

Is Beauty REALLY in the Eye of the Beholder?

If you don’t get obnoxious with the spiritual meaning of the proverb as I just did, I really like it. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is an adage made famous by the philosopher Plato, or William Shakespeare, or author Margaret Wolfe Hungerford, depending on which random internet source you believe.

The phrase suggests that beauty cannot be judged objectively, for what one person considers beautiful, admirable, interesting, or valuable, will not necessarily appeal to another person.

But its spiritual meaning is that everyone gets to decide for themselves what’s awesome or not-awesome. It means our children’s objectively shitty grade school artwork is more beautiful and meaningful to us than something offered from the fine arts community. It means that mangy rescue hound from the shelter missing his right eye and which walks with a limp looks more beautiful to its owner who adopted him than all those fancy-pants dogs prancing around at the Westminster Dog Show.

And I like that.

But, it has a kind-of dark side, too. One which makes me really uncomfortable because it’s part of The Big Secret Lie most of us buy into, and which seems to cause the majority of our mental and emotional problems in adulthood (which are at the very core of all of our relationship problems—exacerbating all of the rejection, self-worth, anxiety and mental health issues which wreak havoc on our relationships and families, ultimately perpetuating the Cycle of Horribleness).

In the framework of human worth and attractiveness, if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then that STILL means that other people have the power to define what is and is not attractive. It means other people have the power to determine another person’s worth. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then that means other people get to tell us who and what we are.

If Person X finds you beautiful, but Person Y labels you ugly, are you beautiful or ugly?

If Person X finds you worthy, but Person Y says you’re unworthy, are you worthy or unworthy?

If Person X says you matter, and Person Y says you don’t, do you matter?

Who Gets to Tell Us Who and What We Are?

There is a fantastic conversation happening beneath the Our Marriage is a Steam Train post about how we define what is masculine or feminine, and to what extent men struggle with their identities RE: Being a Real Man.

Active commenter Travis wrote: “Frankly, I don’t think we’d have the common stereotype of ‘women love bad boys’ if men who exercised their muscles of emotional investment and accepting influence were what they really hungered for.”

Lisa G. wrote: “I remember reading about experiments where a woman was crying in a public place and several people stopped and asked if she was ok. Then they repeated it with a man and no one stopped, they even looked away. It’s all so horribly depressing the messages we give men to not be allowed to express a full range of human emotions.”

Another from Travis which really gets to the heart of the matter: “I found… a fair amount of scientific studies that support my assertion that women are repelled by men who display the very same ‘nice, sweet, sensitive, vulnerable’ characteristics they say they want in us.”

He shared Elite Daily’s 5 Scientific Reasons Why Women Just Won’t Go For The Nice Guys, which I suspect will, in some form or fashion, ring true for most readers.

Are women genetically hard-wired to want assholes because so-called Nice Guys are boring?

I’m staying away from pretending I know a thing about biological science.

More importantly? I don’t think it matters.

Why? Let me ask it again: Who gets to tell us who and what we are?

RE: Attraction

We are attracted to whatever we are naturally attracted to.

People commonly accept or reject the romantic or sexual interest of others based on two things, one of which is natural attraction and perceived compatibility, and the other which is based on what we perceive others’ opinions to be about those choices.

In other words, you like whatever you like for whatever reasons you like them. Who knows why? You just know it when you feel it.

That’s primal.

But you make deliberate choices about personal traits you consider attractive based on a different set of criteria. Ideally, our long-term partner will foster feelings of primal-want within us, but we’re attracted to so many more things.

As adults, those are ideally rooted in shared values and mutually respectful boundary enforcement so your life doesn’t suck.

But people are ALSO attractive or unattractive to us based on that little nagging voice in the back of our minds. What will my friends think? What will my parents think? What will my extended family think? What will my co-workers think?

Psychologically and emotionally healthy people with strong boundaries don’t make decisions like that, of course. But most of us do.

I know personally at least three men who dated or married women (one started a family!) only to later divorce after coming out as gay, and then living as an openly gay man thereafter.

I won’t pretend to know every thought that went through these guys’ heads when they made the choice to couple with women, but one assumes it was done in the spirit of “What will everyone think of me?!”


Not to go even further down the nerd rabbit hole than usual, but it dawned on me within the past year or two that I’d misinterpreted a scene in one of my favorite movies for the past 15 years.

In The Matrix, the story’s hero Neo walks into a kitchen where he is to meet a spiritual guide of sorts. She is known as The Oracle. Neo has been told he is someone very important. The prophecies refer to him as “The One.” But he feels just like a regular guy. He has the power to save the world, he is told. But he can’t figure out how or even whether to believe it. The Oracle is supposed to help him achieve The One status.

He and The Oracle lady exchange pleasantries, and then she asks him the question which begins an exchange I spent years not understanding despite many repeated viewings.

Oracle: “So, what do you think? Do you think you’re The One?”

Neo: “I don’t know.”

The Oracle points above the door Neo used to walk into the kitchen. It looks like this:


Oracle: “You know what that means? It’s Latin. Means ‘Know thyself’. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Being The One is just like being in love. No one can tell you you’re in love, you just know it. Through and through. Balls to bones.”

She kind of gives him a little once-over, looking inside his mouth like a doctor would a patient in a basic check-up.

And then they have this exchange:

Oracle: “Okay, now I’m supposed to say, ‘Hmmm, that’s interesting, but…’ then you say…”

Neo: “But what?”

Oracle: “But, you already know what I’m going to tell you.”

Neo: “I’m not The One.”

Oracle: “Sorry, kid. You got the gift, but it looks like you’re waiting for something.”

Neo: “What?”

Oracle: “Your next life, maybe. Who knows? That’s the way these things go.”

Spoiler alert: Neo is totally The One.

So why did The Oracle say he wasn’t? Was she high on crack?

I just never thought about it correctly. I have a real problem with that sometimes. About everything. Maybe lots of people do.

When it’s later revealed that Neo is, in fact, the badass with world-saving abilities, he’s as confused about it as I was.

But it’s cleared up for him, and the simple answer cuts to the heart of this discussion on attraction and gender identity, and how much or how little others should be able to define us.

No one can tell you who you are.

Am I Good Enough?

That’s the very question on which this blog was founded.

When you love your spouse and want to stay married, but they would rather suffer the many consequences of divorce more than live with you even one more day, you lose your very sense of identity.

To be sure, our spouse’s opinion of us should probably rank higher than that of others or what we assume society at large believes we should be.

I think the conversation about what men and women find attractive, and how society judges men and women relative to stereotypical standards, and how that ultimately damages our interpersonal relationships is a worthwhile conversation.

Until men are allowed to be vulnerable without facing sexual rejection, how can we expect men en masse to pursue emotional intelligence in this macro fight against dysfunctional relationship dynamics?

We probably can’t.

But, as individuals?

Not all men or women. Just one.

Just me.

Just you.

Who gets to tell you who you are?

Because in my battles with insecurity, anxiety and feelings of inadequacy as the clock wound down on my marriage, and then in my dating struggles as I carried all that baggage into single adulthood, I was asking all of the wrong questions.

Am I smart enough?

Am I handsome enough?

Am I rich enough?

Am I funny enough?

Am I talented enough?

Am I tall enough?

Or, more simply…

Am I good enough at [insert whatever thing here]? Am I worthy of her attraction?

I’ve been doing this for three years.

In the first year, I wasn’t good enough. Because I knew that I wasn’t.

In the second year, I wasn’t good enough. Because I didn’t think I was.

In the third year, I discovered that I am, indeed, good enough. Because I know that I am.

Like I KNOW that you are.

And if you don’t know it too, then I guess you’re not good enough, even though I already know that you are.

What are you waiting for? Your next life, maybe. Who knows? That’s the way these things go.

122 thoughts on “The Other Law of Attraction: Self-Worth and Gender Identity in a Mixed-Up World”

  1. Geez man, you’re churning these out with high velocity these days – a guy can’t keep up.

    Anyhow, self-worth is a huge thing and it can’t come from anything external.

    I have a personal interest in mental illness, and I really don’t know where to go on the nature/nurture debate on this one – but there are often some really similar characteristics between people with different mental illnesses and one of the big ones is a poor sense of self worth.

    I’m currently reading a book called the paradox of choice (or something like that, don’t have it handy), and came across something pretty fascinating a few days ago.

    Apparently there was an experiment done with animals in the late 60’s where they shock them, and it sounded like a bit of a variation on the pavlovs dog experiment.

    When the shocking was done in a controlled predictable way, it could be used to drive behaviours. But when the shocking was done in completely random ways, the animals eventually just retreated and stopped doing anything. Additionally, they started to show signs that were very similar to clinical depression in humans.

    What the scientists came to believe was, choice, and more importantly a belief that you are able to influence your own circumstances is a key element in happiness and mental health. Interestingly (to me), part of the point of the book is that we need a certain level of choice. Not enough is bad, but so is too much.

    In any case, often people who are dealing with mental health issues have developed learned helplessness – a belief that they are incapable of acting as an agent of change for their own circumstances. And a big part of cognitive behaviour therapy is in trying to “re-wire” their brains, and make them see that they aren’t victims, they DO have control and influence on their life on the choices they make.

    So, back to self worth. I think of people with low self worth as people with this bottomless pit inside them. The believe their happiness comes from external validation, but the problem is external validation will never be enough. They will always need more, as it gets absorbed by this blackness within them. Really, they will never be happy until they are able to believe in themselves – and at that point their worth comes from within, not from without.

    The need for external validation is not sustainable. Internal however? Believe in yourself, and it doesn’t really matter any more what others think (though it always feels good).

    It’s kind of like the idea you’re talking about here.

    Me? I like me, a lot actually. I think I’m pretty awesome, flaws and all. And generally, I’m pretty happy in life – no matter what’s going on or whether or not things are falling apart all around me.

    See, I’m the one. And no one can convince me otherwise.

    1. “See, I’m the one. And no one can convince me otherwise.”

      Amen! You know what women often say when we fall in love? He’s the one. There is something about people who truly know themselves that is very attractive.

    2. I’ve read some about the paradox of choice stuff (but not the actual book) and, if I remember correctly, too many choices leads to higher levels of unhappiness and dissatisfaction with the choice we make. So apparently we all need enough choice to feel like we can control our destinies but not so much that we constantly think we would’ve been happier with a different choice.
      I think the “dark side” of the phrase beauty is in the eye if the beholder that Matt talks about is derrived from a chronic low self worth in our society. He indicates that that ideology leaves us at the mercy of other people’s opinions of our beauty (basically). But if you are the most important beholder of your own beauty then it does the opposite. If you value your own opinion of your self more than anyone elses you will strive to meet your standards instead of some external standard which leads to being internally motivated instead of externally which leads to actual, sustainable happiness. I also think equating beauty with worth is bullshit. Some things have inherent worth whether they’re beautiful or not and people are one of those things. Believing that is important to having lasting self-worth.

      1. I’m only about 1/2 way in, but so far it’s a fascinating book (though a bit dry at times), dealing with the psychology of motivation.

        You’re right about the main premise being the idea that “some” choice is good, as it allows us to feel we have control of our own destiny; and the idea that too much choice is actually a bad thing.

        To me that makes a lot of sense, and having a fair background on anxiety (of which there are different varieties), one of the common items in anxiety disorders is difficulty with choice, due to a fear that we will make “the wrong” one. Sometimes that fear is so strong people shut down and refuse to make choices – not realizing that “not” making a choice is in actuality a type of choice.

        For those who are interested in this kind of thing, it’s definitely worth a read.

        1. I watched the TED talk about The Paradox of Choice a couple years ago when I was thinking up a post I called “The Key to Happiness is Low Expectations” and then kind of forgot about it. It’s totally going on my ever-growing summer reading list now though. Thanks for reminding me about this.
          It’s interesting how the things that allegedly make our modern lives more comfortable actually produce dysfunctions like anxiety and depression. We have more of everything literally at our finger tips but way less happiness and life satisfaction than ever before. It seems backwards on the surface level but makes sense the more you think about it.

      2. Drew,

        “one of the common items in anxiety disorders is difficulty with choice, due to a fear that we will make “the wrong” one. Sometimes that fear is so strong people shut down and refuse to make choices – not realizing that “not” making a choice is in actuality a type of choice.”

        We call that the IKEA effect in our house. We wonder around the giant store, there are so many choices it paralyzes us and we walk out empty handed.

      3. Hi Lisa, that’s a killer for me. Maybe it’s the way I’m wired, maybe it’s related to my job, I don’t know. But making choices has always been pretty easy.

        I’m always willing to try something, then see if it gets the results I’m looking for. If not? Try something else. I’ve always felt doing “something” is better than doing nothing.

        Ideally there’s been a bit of thought process behind choosing that something, but I can’t handle apathy or acceptance of issues. I think for many mental health concerns, learned helplessness plays a big part. And I’ve never bought into the idea that I’m helpless.

        Sometimes the only changes I can facilitate aren’t ones I necessarily want, and at that time I need to choose if a change is worth making. But we always power to change things.

      4. Drew,

        You are clearly an action person! I get that. When I am anxious it sooths me to come up with a plan. It doesn’t have to be perfect just something to move in the right direction.

        When I get the IKEA effect of too many options, I arbitrarily narrow it down to 3 to 5 choices. Most things in life are not fatal decisions. You can always alter the plan.

        Of course you need balance. I know someone who when a problem arises does something. Not necessarily well thought out or considerate of others. But it soothes him just to take action. Not good. If only because he doesn’t consider his wife’s needs before taking action.

        On the other hand I also know someone who doesn’t take any action. Learned helplessness. She’ll talk about a problem endlessly but never change anything. Drives me crazy.

        Therapists used to tell me they thought I was doing this. But that is wrong. I research things for a while. Consider reasonable options and then pick something. Researching is not a waste of time! At least for me.

        I don’t do it endlessly just to figure out good choices. Or to redirect if the first choice didn’t work.

        Because often what “experts” tell you is wrong. And I’ve been burned in the past by just listening to them.

        You sound like you have a good balance that works for you. It obviously is harder when the problem solving involves a relationship with one or more people.

        1. I’m really guilty of “trying to win it all” when I make, or don’t make decisions. I guess that’s normal- I want to be able maximize the potential to get everything I want.
          I think that is the reason I still live where I do. I could have moved along time ago, but wanted to be able to have a better position in a larger city- so more school. But I’ve delayed and delayed so and at this point, it will still be about 3 years after I graduate before I will feel financially on top of the game enough to move. I’ll be 45, and I do have a fear that I’ll be “rusty” and a little behind the game if I move to a larger city. It’s almost a case of waiting for everything to be perfect before I act on what I decided several years ago.
          But,I so intend to act. I know Travis mentioned getting out of OK when the youngest is 18…and I think he mentioned beaches. One of my dreams is to live on the beach in North Carolina, I really like the idea of South Carolina, too- but I think it will be still just as conservative :P. Maybe I just need to make that my fav. Vacation spot…:)

    3. Drew,
      I think you are absolutely right about the internal validation vs external validation.
      I experience my own mental health issues (I try not to call it mental illness issues, because the goal is mental HEALTH.. 🙂
      We tend to tell ourselves familiar stories that we picked up when we were growing up. Sometimes they are positive stories that lead you to believe that whatever happens next will be positive. Sometimes there are negative stories that lead you to believe that whatever happens next will be negative- or a repeat of what happened previously.
      A lot of times we view our worth and our life through these old stories, with a repeated outcome.
      I am guilty of this, which pisses me off, but it is just so automatic.
      We have to be consciously aware of what we are telling ourselves. Our we viewing our present circumstances from our old story?
      We have to know our old story and we have to start telling ourselves a different story.
      Ex: I know my dad always yelled at me when I didn’t make A’s. But, I know my wife doesn’t expect perfection, she has never yelled at me for not achieving, so I dont have to fear telling her I didn’t get the promotion.
      That kind of thing.
      It’s making what we know on an intellectual level more real on the emotional level as it is practiced, repeatedly.
      I think this is what internal validation looks like.
      We cant just tell ourselves we are ok, we have to experience that (sometimes repeatedly).
      But yeah, expecting others to continually hold you up from whatever your experiencing is unfulfilling for everyone. It doesn’t work as a real solution.

  2. In my neighborhood, we have a joke about all of us having a contract hit on one man’s wife. We would then go after the husband in a desperate, bloody melee. What is his attraction? He is nice looking, kind of tall, moderate build. I can’t really dissect him physically. What just slays us is his temperament and the way he shows it. He looks you right in the eye with interest. He weighs his words and is good for every one. He calmly take things on and does them thoroughly. When he needs some help, he states the case in a few words “bruised my arm, can you grab that”. His eyes gently chuckle, his posture shows he is comfortable in his skin, he speaks directly. Men love him, too. He can make cookies, he can make furniture. He can talk sports, he can talk opera. He is what a golden retriever would be if it were a man.

    1. “He is what a golden retriever would be if it were a man.”

      Ha! Well said. A golden retriever, I like that. There’s a kind of confidence and warmth that comes through that is unmistakable and very attractive.

    2. “He is what a golden retriever would be if it were a man.” I had a co-worker like that. Just a nice capable human. He and his wife had a fight one morning and he’d left to come to work, then called in sick and went home because he didn’t like the way they’d left things. I complimented him on his insight into their relationship, he looked at me like I was crazy and said, but I love my wife.

  3. Appreciative Reader

    Excellent as always. I thought your writing on marriage as a steam train was brilliant. You really make a difference for me and help take nebulous, uncertain relationship issues/problems and make them clear and relevant. Thank you Matt!

  4. Shannon,

    You’ve found him!!! It seems you have in your neighbor that fully functioning human being who also happens to be A MAN!

    From what you have described, you have in your neighbor someone who has managed to circumvent the destructive ethic of the “man-card”.

    I hope he is truly all that he seems; I also hope you can find a way to “clone” him; God knows he sounds like THE ONE. Not in the sense that Matt describes, rather someone who provides a real, tangible example of manhood that is worthy of emulation. YEAH!!!!!!

  5. I really liked this one a lot, too. I tend to enjoy your posts best when they move beyond just the aspirational and inspirational and offer up at least a nugget of “and here’s what you can actually put into action to accomplish it”. The only part that hit a bum note for me was this: “But I think when we scrape off all the Pretending, we’ll discover that the ultimate motivation is usually: ‘I want women to think of me as attractive and want me, sexually. Because that’s what will most improve my status and standing in the eyes of others. And what other people think of me is very important and influences all of my decisions.'” You’ve espoused this sort of thinking before, to the point where I honestly feel that how others perceive you has been a far more vital and pressing concern for you in your life than it ever has been in mine. Certainly I have reason to ensure I am perceived by others as a capable employee or I will not be hired or retained. I have reason to ensure I’m perceived us as a worthwhile parent; otherwise, I run the risk of raising emotionally damaged children, or losing the respect necessary to effectively parent them. I have reason to ensure I’m perceived as a worthwhile spouse, lest I face losing my wife to a more qualified candidate. But ensuring I am perceived as worthwhile because I find the status the general outside world affords me to be important and influential? No, that doesn’t ring at all true for me. It hasn’t since before I was ten years old. It feels too shallow. I think the truth runs deeper than that (unless, once again, we’re trying to say the same thing in dissimilar ways), and is summed up very well by a favorite quote of mine which, amusingly, came from a person whose wisdom I usually consider to be overvalued, Oprah Winfrey:

    “I’ve talked to nearly 30,000 people on this show, and all 30,000 had one thing in common: They all wanted validation. If I could reach through this television and sit on your sofa or sit on a stool in your kitchen right now, I would tell you that every single person you will ever meet shares that common desire. They want to know: ‘Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything to you?’

    Understanding that one principle, that everybody wants to be heard, has allowed me to hold the microphone for you all these years with the least amount of judgment. Now I can’t say I wasn’t judging some days. Some days, I had to judge just a little bit. But it’s helped me to stand and to try to do that with an open mind and to do it with an open heart. It has worked for this platform, and I guarantee you it will work for yours. Try it with your children, your husband, your wife, your boss, your friends. Validate them. ‘I see you. I hear you. And what you say matters to me.”

    We just want to know that we got the essentials of being a human being right. We want to know that we played the game of life right enough to have at least earned our place on the board. We need confirmation, from just that one special person, that it’s better that we’re around than not.

    To the greater, more salient point of your post, though, I fully concur that we simply have to assume the truth of that for ourselves before anyone in the outside world can confirm it. I guess it’s a little like faith (a concept that isn’t one with which I am usually comfortable): even in the absence of observable evidence, you have to be willing to take it as a given. You have to believe it before the world will reflect it back to you. Not many forms of faith have guided my life, but that one always has. Sometimes it feels precarious, sometimes it is threatened, sometimes it feels like it’s built on (Coldplay segue) pillars of salt and pillars of sand, but I endure because, dammit, I like being me and if I’m not ‘right’ enough for someone, or ‘good’ enough for someone, then I’m afraid that’s on them. This is my drumbeat and it’s been a fine one to dance to.

    1. Travis,

      Hey I was just getting warmed up on the other post but I guess we’ll have to get deep over here.

      I liked your Oprah quote because it gets to the heart of our absolute healthy need for connection with other people.

      Sometimes I have heard self worth defined as totally within yourself with a unwillingness to change for others. But I think that misses our need for connection and in relationship to be willing to change and accept influence.

      How do you think we balance the two opposing things. To be rock solid in our sense of self and yet able to change for our spouse?

      How do we know what to say this so part of me that I’m not willing to change this or is there nothing that should be defined like that?

      This is a real life question for me right now so any thoughts would be appreciated.

      1. Maybe I should have added filigree in my question?

        Anyone have thoughts on this?

      2. Sorry, Lisa, I did read this last night, but since my wife had returned from a business trip that had kept her away for three nights and knew a proper reply to you would take some time to both process and type…well, here we are now…

        “Sometimes I have heard self worth defined as totally within yourself with a unwillingness to change for others. But I think that misses our need for connection and in relationship to be willing to change and accept influence.

        How do you think we balance the two opposing things. To be rock solid in our sense of self and yet able to change for our spouse?

        How do we know what to say this so part of me that I’m not willing to change this or is there nothing that should be defined like that?”

        I 100% agree with you that a positive self-image may incorporate unwillingness to change and accept influence, but a HEALTHY self-image will not. But I think there are a few issues regarding self-image happening between Matt’s post and your inquiry.

        There are people (hell, everyone on the planet, I would argue) that don’t suffer from debilitating issues of self-esteem, or damaged identities. People who, for the most part, function well in life and feel connected to some degree with social outlets; who can find a sisterhood or brotherhood; who, regardless of frequency or quality, the opposite gender has shown interest in them; but who also occasionally receive messages that there’s a certain element of their personality, or thought process, that is bothersome or concerning to others. “Your clothes are so unflattering for such a pretty girl.” “Your laugh sounds like a hyena!” “You’re always late to every appointment!” “Your negativity often sucks the energy out of the room.” I think for these types of people, it does behoove them to fairly and respectfully consider this feedback and apply it to their own personal value system to determine it’s subjective worth to them. Would adapting to that feedback help them better align with their own perception of self? Will it help them evolve and become a version of themselves they can be even more proud of? Or, most critically, would making such changes strike them as inauthentic? I think that’s the key issue (as subjective as it is for each individual)–is it something that might just be uncomfortable to do, like exercising a new muscle, or is it something that feels fundamentally like a violation of one’s true self? If you feel accepting a certain influence will make you delight and relish in your evolution of self, then you owe it to yourself to incorporate it, but if it will only work to serve the tastes and satisfactions of others (i.e. improve your social standing), then you do yourself a disservice to incorporate it. When this issue moves into the realm of marriage, I think the same general principle applies–do your spouse’s attempts at influence threaten to fundamentally alter or corrupt who you are, or do they simply serve as a perhaps uncomfortable or awkward way for you to evolve and strengthen yourself as a marital partner? So often (and I’ve been there, too), I hear spouses lament, “He/She always wants me to change, instead of loving me as I am!”, and many times, that’s a very real, legitimate concern, but many other times, I think those people have cause to stop and question deeper–are you being asked to be someone you’re not, or are you just being asked to exercise your innate capabilities?

        On the other hand, I feel like Matt’s post targets more profound self-image/identity crises. The type of influence (if you can call it that) that says, “You are profoundly defective as a human being in some way.” When everyone says you’re ugly. When everyone says you’re stupid. When everyone says your body is disgusting. When everybody says you’re not a “real man/woman”. When everyone says no one could ever love or want you. The kind of influence that alienates and ostracizes you from many/all social circles. That leaves you struggling to find a sisterhood, brotherhood or romance. That makes you feel a lack of meaningful connection with others. Castaways in the ocean of humanity. Those are the types of people who owe it to their basic sense of emotional and psychological health, to their sense of basic self-preservation, to begin telling themselves a different inner narrative than what’s being pushed onto them externally, to locate the gems in their character others are too blind or distracted to see, and build from there. They owe it to themselves to recognize that everyone who judges them does so while standing on the broken glass of shattered pieces of their own psyches. They need to absorb those great Billy Joel lines, “They will tell you you can’t sleep alone in a strange place; then they’ll tell you you can’t sleep with somebody else; ah, but sooner or later, you sleep in your own space; either way, it’s okay to wake up with yourself.”

      3. Travis,

        You mean you were spending time with your wife instead of writing comments about how to not divorce? What were you thinking Travis!!!!! LOL

        No apologies necessary. I am just mulling this one over for practical reasons and looking for perspectives other than my own pigheaded one.

        I am short on time now so I will respond to your comments later but I appreciate you taking the time.

      4. Lisa,
        I don’t like that definition of self worth : P! ..:)
        I know others have talked about self differentiation before. I think that is your answer on how to balance being who you are, and being willing to be flexible and comply with others.
        It was Snarch.right? I still cant get over that name.
        It is knowing you are a part , both a contributor and recipient of a larger community. You weren’t made and don’t live on an island.
        I don’t know if we can be “rock solid” in our sense of self in a way that means we don’t change. We do change, and that is a good thing.
        We can be very aware of our core beliefs, our experiences ect. and if they are working for us living them out is great.
        If they are not working for us- if there are unhealthy and are causing harm to yourself or others, then we absolutely need to be willing to change, and we need our social connections to do that (including spouses..)

      5. I like what Schnarch says, having a solid but permeable self (or boundaries?). 🙂 I believe that’s what he says at least. That allows for changing even very deep seated convictions/biases (conscious or not) should your experiences/studies/inner truth compell you to.

        And I believe someone with a solid self with a healthy sense of self worth can be quite flexible even with small thing, because you’re not triggered so much, and you can allow other people to influence you (to some degree) without freaking out, because you know you can uphoald your boundaries if it’s necessary.

        Ok, I’m gonna tout my own horn a bit here. One of my values is dealing with my personal finance situation in a way that I’m comfortable with, and I also believe in financial fairness in a relationship (I know, who decides what’s fair). In this area, I don’t feel extremely triggered (though I do have triggers), so I believe I could be quite flexible in how it’s executed in a partnership, as long as it was fair and sustainable and comfortable for me. Solid and flexible. If I was with someone, who say, got screwed over by their ex and didn’t feel safe combining finances, I could probably accomodate them on this, that would probably be fine with me. If we both worked and had the same amount of responsibilities at home, we could have a joint account for joint expenses or something. A fair prenup would be fine too. If one of us were to work less to give the other person’s career preference/to take care of kids/home responsibilites, that would need to be adjusted for. I could probably merge finances, at least to a large extent, with someone too, say if they had a similar way of spending/saving as me, or were willing to put in the work to compromise on a budget, stick to it and adjust as necessary. I could not deal with sharing finances with someone extremely stingy or who has whole in their pockets though.

        If I met someone who was much richer than me and who also were freaked out because they got screwed over sometime and had fears of being used as a sugar daddy? Well, if he would want to come down to the standard of living that I could comfortably pay half for, no problem (I believe). But if he wants to have a fancy sail boat and live in a luxury McMansion, I can’t and won’t pay half. :p And, say, if we were helping a kid with expensive dental treatment or a down payment or something, honestly, I probably would want him to pay more than half in those situations. That seems fair to me (same if the situations were reversed).

        I would be much less flexible in other areas though. I don’t think I could live with someone who had kids from a previous relationship (maybe if they were grown and hardly ever visited, lol). Not becuse I judge them or anything like that at all, but I just don’t think I could, and frankly, I dont want to. Now, if we both were ok with having the kind of relationship where we don’t live together, kids from a previous relationship would probably be fine. :p I would welcome being a stepmom to dogs from a previous relationship. 8)

        But this seems like a boundary that’s reasonably comfortable for me to draw. I think there are areas where I would be unneccessarily triggered and inflexible, because I don’t really feel safe with myself and the world there. Housework equality matters a lot to me, but I don’t feel solid and flexible in that area. I don’t quite trust myself. It would be hard for me to know what’s fair and what’s not and to accomodate quirks/foibles without going crazy wondering if I’m letting myself be taken advantage of, if things aren’t fair, if maybe I’m being too rigid, not firm enough… Especially if the man were stereotypically more in the slob direction, doesn’t see dust, doesn’t care… It would probably be easier for me to be flexible and solid with a man who was more anal about everything than me, because I’m not so triggered by that, even if the anal man were objectively as good at/not as good at accepting influence as the slob man. Although I’m sure I could find it annoying being asked if I could fold the towels the way he likes them to be folded, it wouldn’t make me (want to) loose my shit the same way seing a dirty towel on the floor for the nth time would. :p Someone else who grew up with an obsessively clean parent or something would maybe be more triggered by the anal man.

        Getting some grip on ourselves and having both people accept influence seems like a good recipe. 🙂 Although that’s easier said than done.

      6. Travis, Linbo, and Donkey,

        Thanks for your thoughts. I agree with many points you all made.

        The solid sense of self I agree is the questions Matt’s post is mostly addressing answering yes to Am I good enough?

        I agree when we have that solid sense of self it makes you be more flexible to accept influence and change. And as Brene Brown said the most compassionate people are the most boundaried.

        I’m also thinking of things that are more intrinsic personality differences. How much should one change? How much should one ask the spouse to change? How much can you change even if you want to?

        Remember the statistic that 69% of couples problems are perpetual? You never really solve them.

        Things like extrovert/introvert differences, career/family balance, nuclear family/extended family, togetherness/independence, validation first/problem solving first. These are things that are hard to change because they are “you” to a certain extent.

        And the one we are currently working on. Easily upset vs. easygoing. Guess which one I am? I’ll give you a hint, one of the most common adjectives people use to describe me is “intense”.

        I just have strong reactions, opinions, ideas, whatever. Both good and bad. I’m very animated when I talk etc. My son is like this too so we spent Mothers Day railing about the waste of the new Star Wars movie as a rehash of the plot. The horror!! The injustice!!! The wastefulness!!! My son calls it $tar War$.

        Ok now my husband is not like this. He has a few topics they get him riled up but he usually just says things are not a big deal and people have different ways of looking at things etc. my daughter is more like this too.

        Neither of these styles are a problem by themself. But when you combine them, it is a problem for us because my intensity rattles my husband’s amygdala and feels like an assault even if I am talking about something completely not related to him.

        On my side, his non intensity feels very dismissive to me. I am not asking him to agree with my on every little thing but it’s annoying to have someone just say it’s no big deal.

        For example, recently our son was at a school award ceremony. And they mispronounced his name several times. This is annoying to me because it was an elaborate ceremony.

        Why couldn’t they make it a priority to figure out in advance how to pronounce the names? Seems pretty simple. Especially for awards for only 4 people. If you are not sure, ask the person.

        Ok I realize it’s not murder but still annoying right? So I mention this to my husband (because he wasn’t able to come) and he shrugs his shoulders and says it no big deal.

        This makes me more intense trying to explain my logic on why it is indeed a big deal. And my increased intensity ramps up his defenses and he doubles down etc.

        I tell you this story not because it represents 2 to 3 conversations we have every day. I’m intense, he’s not. Perpetual problem. How much can we change?

        Problem solving mode, we are doing mindfulness stuff to reduce triggering and anxiety. You can rewire the brain! It takes a lot if work and repetition but it’s doable.

        Also, we are learning some communication tools as I said earlier, find the understandable part, join the emotion etc.

        But let’s get real even after doing that stuff, I am still way to intense for his amygdala and he’s way to no big deal for mine. So how much more of my intensity and directness do I work to change? I like that about me. Not the harshness and the triggering but in general.

        How much of his ability to see many perspectives and understand that things are always going to be less than perfect does he change?

        There must be other ways of dealing with it. I am sure you good people have big style and personality differences you deal with. How do you handle it?

        Also, I know a lot of the problem is just a lack of overall relationship positivity. So we are working on that piece too. Easier to be more generous when you feel good about each other.

        Anyone relate to that in your relationships? Any suggestions?


      7. I believe the overall relationship positivity is very important Lisa! Good point!

        And I also think that as both of you heal more/rewire your brains/differentiate (sorry, I can’t quite help myself), you won’t get as triggered by the other person’s intensity/no big deal-ness. You can still be intense and yet not be so bothered when he says x is not big deal.

        Maybe you can also work on being proactive. If you’ve already done this and it seems obvious to you, then please forgive me. 🙂

        Like: “hubby, I want to talk with you about something that I find upsetting, that has nothing to do with you at all. We’re good. It will only take 5 minutes or less. But I need you to, for those five or fewer minutes to the best of your ability to sympathize with me, even if the sympathy is fake. Even if you don’t think it’s a big deal, just don’t say that. You can say things like like “wow”, “huh”, “tell me more”.

        I tried something like this in a relationship once….and it didn’t work. :p But I believe it could have worked with practice. 🙂 Could probably have gotten a lot easier with time too.

        What do you think?

      8. (one of my points was that you wouldn’t have to change that intrinsic part of you that is fabulously intense. I hope that was clear. You could still be intense, he could still be no big deal-ish, you just wouldn’t trigger eachother as much. While some moderation would be good once in a while, for both of you, you could keep your style but just also be ok being coupled with someone who has the opposite style)

      9. ..and maybe add to the proactive introduction a promise to behave calmly and drop the conversation after the 5 minutes is over. So he knows there’s a bonus there for his amygdala too. :p And you know this Lisa, but he would do well to integrate into his knowledge that the better a job he does at showing sympathy to your intensity for 5 minutes, the easier it would be for you to calm down afterwards. 😉

      10. Donkey: I think Boundaries is exactly what Snarch (The Mid-Evil Dragon) is talking about. 🙂
        Lisa: The only personality style differences I really have to deal with consistently are my dogs. So, I don’t have a lot to offer in the way of that. But, your questions about “how much should one be willing to change, how much should my spouse change, and how much can you change even if you want to. ”
        I think the first option and the last option are closely related. Be willing to change however much you can. The same for him.
        We should be aware of how we are affecting our partners. And we should CARE how we are affecting our partners.
        So if something comes up, then it needs to be addressed. It sounds like you guys are doing that. It just seems like tough work.
        I’m sitting here thinking about the concepts of “growing as one” in marriage.
        I know how insanely impossible that is to live out- but I think of it like “the one” they are talking about is the marriage relationship.
        Your day to day existence is so ingrained in the relationship that he really does become “your other half”.
        So that is why I talk about having relationship goals. What do you want the relationship to be like when youre old and grey? Talking about this and sharing it with each can help ya’ll commit to common things that are important, and can help you decide what needs to be changed, and what needs to be forgotten.

        I don’t know if that sounds like a bunch of BS or what. It may be!, and I have no idea if it would really benefit anyone, but that is what I was thinking 🙂

        If nothing else, most people mellow out as they get older- so if youre feeling especially intense, just remind him he only has 20 or 30 more years of it 🙂

      11. Lisa-
        What Donkey Said!
        I don’t really know if I was very helpful.
        The rewiring thing, though- its true.
        I also kind of wonder if it is the thing that can bring about emotional insight.
        It’s hard because you cant manufacture emotional insight- you just have to know it and feel it.
        That is thing that can/does change behavior.

      12. Donkey and Linbo,

        Thanks for your ideas and encouragement. I just needed a little friendly pep talk so I appreciate it.

        I’m probably feeling a little discouraged today like Drew was a few days ago. I think reliving him leaving me in the hospital twice through and him not really apologizing for many years through the Jive post connects didn’t help my state of mind either. 🙂

        It’s so exhausting to have to try and change all this stuff and be more mature all the time. 😉
        Really, being immature is just so much easier.

        I do like my directness and intensity. He does too most of the time. And I really do his appreciate his ability to see things differently. I have learned a lot from him in trying to get rid of my crude moral flowchart.

        I even inspired him last year to participate in a protest against unfairness where he works. So that’s some intensity!

        Part of my not accepting influence from him was trying to get him to change his thinking on things to be more intense. This made him feel like I didn’t accept him as he is.

        Obviously, I don’t want that and had no idea I was doing that to him until recently so that’s my version of derpy derpness accidental hurting him. Or my intense version anyway.

        So, I’ve got to figure out how to accept him as he is while still asking him to change. But I need to ask less intensely somehow and also turn water into wine while I’m at it. 😉

      13. Donkey and Linbo,

        A couple of misc things.

        Donkey I don’t know if you saw my reply to you on the last post about your sense of humor but if not I want to make sure that my poor phrasing did not give you the message that I don’t recognize your gifts there.

        Your shit sandwich/burger comment still makes me laugh when I think of of it. I was trying to say that I really do think you have an excellent way of making people feel appreciated so I think you could joke with men and still keep your woman card.

        In fact I can see how if you combine those two things it is quite charming. I’m trying to learn more charm. 🙂


        I haven’t commented that much on the gender man card comments you made but you are on fire!

        Also regarding your relationship with your dogs, I laugh sometimes because my two cats have quite different personalities so I swear I see some relationship dysfunctions in their relationship similar to the “dishes”.

        One cat is derby derp and the other takes it for a while and turn just attacks. I occasionally have to given them marriage counseling which may or may not involve a squirt gun. 🙂

        That was one of my zany ideas my husband and I tried last summer. . We each had buzzers and squirt guns during discussions. When one of us said something triggering a buzzer, contempt got the squirt gun.

        I got very wet. 😉

        1. That’s it- we all just need super soakers!
          Even and especially with political debates. That would be rad!
          …but seriously, that is a really fun and creative way to “talk through” an argument, or have a discussion. I’m sure that’s part of the “intense” personality that he loves.

      14. Lisa, I did see your comment on the humor thing, thank you. No worries. 🙂

        Linbo and Travis I appreciate the compliments on my peanut butter routine. A very proud moment for me that one. You are very welcome to try it out for yourselves. Perhaps you can report back on this blog how it went? 8)

        I think this may be an area where being a woman is an advantage. I mean, girls are expected to be pretty and neat and everything to a larger extent than boys, but similarly, I think a woman can get away with more grossness/dirty jokes without people feeling like she’s creepy (or indeed sexually harassing someone!).

        (One thing I have to make clear though, the don’t make him loose his man card or you loose your woman card in his eyes seems to be very real, but it’s not like myself or all other women are just excellent at having our faulty thinking called out as a joke and everything. So it’s not like everytime a man doesn’t like it, it’s because he totlally buys into patriarchal thinking or whatever.)

      15. (And Lisa, even if you didn’t like my humor, that would be ok too. It’s not a crime. 🙂 No one is obligated to think I’m funny. This happens a lot actually, I tell someone a joke or somehing and they just look at me with indifference. And I’m like laugh darn it, laugh!!)

        Lisa, I get that you needed a little pick me up, but do you have any thoughts on the kind of proactive conversation I suggested? 8)

      16. Lisa said,

        “I got very wet. ;)”

        That’s what she said.

        C’mon, you had to know that was coming. (That’s also what she said.)

        Dammit, Donkey, see what you’ve started!

        1. A. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one.

          B. I’m glad I exhibited restraint in not saying anything. Cave dweller.

          You redeemed yourself by That’s What She Saiding your follow-up comment like a true professional.

          Well played.

          (Side note: Like most people, I was rolling with Kings of Leon in 2008-09 because all of the songs on Notion that never got radio play were awesome. But I’ve never thought of them as “angry.” In fact, based on that album only — I think I have the next one too, but never play it — I’d call them soft rock. Like Dave Matthews or whatever. Disturbed is angry. Rage Agaisnt the Machine is angry. System of a Down is angry. What am I missing about Kings of Leon?)

      17. Lisa said,

        “Neither of these styles are a problem by themself. But when you combine them, it is a problem for us because my intensity rattles my husband’s amygdala and feels like an assault even if I am talking about something completely not related to him.

        On my side, his non intensity feels very dismissive to me. I am not asking him to agree with my on every little thing but it’s annoying to have someone just say it’s no big deal.”

        I confess to a bit of confusion around this. Unlike certain other marital issues that can crop up out of the blue because of failure to discuss them prior to marriage, you’re talking about the basics of how the two of you present yourselves. Your actual manifest personalities. So didn’t you guys already know he was chill to a point and you were dialed up to 11 before exchanging vows? Could this perhaps be an example of the ages old problem of something that used to seem cute and endearing because it was so different from you morphing over time into something unpleasant and annoying? If that’s it, then it would seem that the key is to reframe your perception of your spouse’s personality back to how it used to make you feel. Embrace what’s positive about it. Find its virtues and how it likely provides a kind of critical balance to your relationship. How it allows both of you to never drift too far from center.

        I do relate strongly, since I am very much the chilled, laid back one in my marriage and my wife wins an Oscar for Best Dramatic Performance on a weekly basis (not going to say anything about a possible gender pattern here…nope, not me…not gonna do it…), and it got me thinking. Lisa, you’ve proven yourself to be a woman of science, of 2+2 logically equaling four; in that light, though my advice here may be irritating, since it comes from a similar chill-before-shrill perspective as your husband, when you say his “no big deal” ethic is annoying, I would counter is it unproductive? Is it fundamentally inaccurate? For me, I truly do try to pick my battles of frustration based on the mental exercise, “will I remember this a year from now, and if I would, will it still cause me anger, or will I likely just chuckle about it?” Reconsider the story about your son’s name being mispronounced through that lens. What answer did you come up with? Did you know that during my wedding, the judge (we went courthouse, not church) kept referring to me as “Tracy”?! In the moment, yeah, a little frustrating–it’s my friggin’ WEDDING, man!–especially after the third correction. But now? Oh, my wife and I laugh and laugh about that when we reminisce. Emotions are important things. We should allow ourselves to feel them, process them, own them. But when they fail to be productive, there may be cause to get control of them rather than let them control you. The world has an aptitude for hurling enough legitimate causes for frustration our way, so why allow yourself more aggravation than necessary?

        None of this is said to imply you’re the one who solely needs to change. Your husband needs to reframe here, too. Anytime I start to get irritated that my wife is dialed up to 11 again, I reframe it in my mind and see it as spark, passion, living life to its fullest. Instead of letting it assault my nerves, I reframe to see her as a radiant star on the stage of life. Instead of wanting to her to just chill the eff out, I reframe to see her as a shining ray of personality and verve, who’s never boring and who struts to the beat of her own drum. I always try to remember, these are the things about her that I don’t have in me; therefore, they bring balance to my relationship, and a new perspective and approach to life from which I can learn, grow and be shaped by.

      18. Travis and Matt,

        Regarding your wet comment. That didn’t even occur to me which shows you how bad an idea it was for me to relive the hospital abandonment/defensive lack of apology.

        But it did clarify my thoughts so it was worthwhile. Yesterday I had an intense conversation with both my kids about their not cleaning up after themselves in general and their absolutely disgusting bathroom that I ended up cleaning because we are having guests and how disrespectful that feels to me.

        They responded differently but neither really apologized. It’s understandable because I have never taught them the steps.

        So because of the C-section post I went over the steps with them. How you acknowledge the other person’s “pain” and “bad” emotions it caused, take responsibility for your mistake, and non defensively apologize and most importantly detail what you are going to do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

        I guess I never realized I had not taught them how to do this in detail. My dad was good at this so he taught me by modeling it with me.

        I do it with them in other areas but I am often mad about the cleaning thing because it is symbolic of a lot of things to me so I think my anger overshadowed whatever good things I may be doing. I am working hard to rewire my brain to fix that one.

        I also framed it in terms of accepting influence and that skill’s importance in showing love and respect. That helped them understand why it is important to close their closet doors (we each have 2 door storage closets in our entry) instead of leaving them open. They didn’t understand why it was a big deal because it only takes 5 seconds for me to close each day.

        It’s a big deal because it shows they don’t accept my influence. And that matters. The closet doors don’t matter just like the dish doesn’t matter but accepting influence is critical. That makes the difference in feeling loved and respected or not.

        Here’s what I told them according to a modified David Burn’s Feeling Good Together and Lisa’s making it up model too.

        “Wow Mom I can see how my not cleaning up after myself even after you remind me makes you feel disrespected. I defintely don’t think you are my maid and I am so sorry I made you feel like that.

        I am going to clean up right now and I think your idea of a set time each week to spend an hour to clean will work to solve this problem. If it doesn’t solve it, we will figure out another way”.

        I apologized to them for being intense in my tone and told them that was part of the stuff I am working on. We all make mistakes and need to constantly be working on being better.

        Anyway, I appreciate this blog and all the commenters. It is helping me to figure out how to change myself and to be conscious of teaching my kids critical relationship skills.

        As Matt says, it more critical than knowing the history of the War of 1812 or how to play soccer or baseball or piano.

        1. I really liked this comment, Lisa. I’m still learning how to apply all I’m learning here to A. My relationship with my son, and B. Teaching him these lessons in a way in which he can grasp.

          I like your parenting story. These things matter and if everyone knew enough to teach these ideas (and God-willing, successfully) so many aspects of life would get so much better for so many people.

          You know, which kind of sounds awesome.

      19. Good job Lisa! Very impressive!

        Travis, good joke. 😉
        And it really comes through to me that you have so much genuine love and appreciation for your wife. I liked the whole star on the stage thing.

      20. Tracy err I mean Travis,

        Well I knew someone was going to present my intensity and my husbands no big deal in gender terms which is why I purposely threw in that my SON is also like this and my daughter is not.

        It’s funny and my husband laughs because I used to be always that people described me as intense. I did not consider myself intense. Most especially because I am super mellow compared to my super intense DAD.

        We are always comparing outselves to other people and averages. My world used to be filled with intense people. But I now recognize my “intensity” compared to other styles.

        You raise some good points though about is it different now than when we got married.

        I think when you get into a dysfunctional pattern it intensifies the differences between you and lessens the softening positive feelings that enable me to let stuff roll and enable him to join my intensity.

        Because you lose the basic trust that they have your back. Then everything turns into having to fight to be treated fairly. For me that is not allowing him to dismiss and avoid me, for him it is not allowing me to overwhelm him with negativity. So that feeds into stupid little conversations about mispronuncing our sons name.

        It clouds everything. Which is why people divorce over dishes. It is because it represents that the other person cannot or will not treat them fairly.

        Ok how to solve. Well understanding what the hell is going on helps. But only goes so far.
        Both of us have to fight out natural tendencies because it pours acid on the wounds.

        My intensity feels like “see she is always going to overwhelm my brain, I can’t tolerate living like that”. And mine, “see held so avoidant, he can’t rotely agree with me that mispronouncing our sons name is irritating”

        But it’s just temporary. It can all be changed.

        I appreciate all the comments here, it has helped me to see it for what it is. This is just the middle phase. You know when you start a new project or exercise program and you have lots of hope and energy. Then your muscles are sore and you’re tired and there’s still a long way to go.

        And he gets more like that than I do. So I in the past was the one who had to give the Churchillian speeches to rally the hope. But that is exhausting to have hope for two people.

        But I’m choosing not to do that this time. Because it’s part of the problem. He needs to fight his pessimism himself. To figure out what he needs to do to choose hope. He is doing it and I have to not get rattled by his negativity.

        I am always comforted by the research. 69% of problems are perpetual. Happy couples find ways to be happy despite real differences. The differences are irritating but not the problem. It’s how you deal with them.

        And I know from the research that all of our marriage difficulties are incredibly common and fixable. It’s just a matter of being willing and knowing the correct fixes and just working hard every day. That gives me hope because it’s hard but simple. I like simple flowchart things.

        It’s gives me sympathy for my husband because he doesn’t think like that. He has a much more nuanced way, multilayered way of processing things that makes him have to work harder to have hope when he gets tired.

        But Churchill was right,

        “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

        1. Lisa,

          You said (paraphrasing) “we’re just in the middle of it..”
          That’s Act 2! If you haven’t read Rising Strong, it may be good to. It’s not a marriage book- but tons and tons of nuggets!
          “Whoop!” To the Churchill quote.
          The only better quote I’ve read in a long time is “I’m always comforted by research.” Lol 🙂
          Seriously- you need to get some initials by your name, and get paid to stand on a soap box. Why the hell not??!

      21. Lisa said,

        “Well I knew someone was going to present my intensity and my husbands no big deal in gender terms which is why I purposely threw in that my SON is also like this and my daughter is not.”

        I hope you knew that was meant totally in jest; hence, the playful phrasing I used. Sheesh, you’re coming off kinda intense about this.

        That was another joke. Please, God, tell me you’re smiling…

      22. Donkey,

        I like your distinctions between being able to be more generous in areas where you have a solid sense of yourself. That makes a lot of sense.

        The protective conversation is a good idea. I am going to try and do a little more of that but because he is avoidant he doesn’t respond the way a non avoidant does so it’s hard to not get triggered by 5 minute conversations.

        If I said “I just want you to listen five minutes” he would not say ok go ahead. Or he might but his body language says otherwise. No eye contact, these body, very little feedback.

        That just makes it worse for me than if I never talked to him at all. So that is the approach I am have taken for the last sixth months to just need less contact with him. Alternate methods for my external thought processing like blog commenting.

        It was literally physically painful for me to not seek him out. Interesting aside, the brain processes emotional pain in the same way as physical pain so I took Tylenol. It helped.

        Because our relationship has improved we are trying to talk “normally” again while trying to learn new techniques to deal with the anxious/avoidant thing.

        And the painful memories a stupid little conversation stirs up. Like when he doesn’t make eye contact. Or my tone is “intense”.

        That’s why communication strategies so often fail because what is really going on is emotional. It has to be dealt with on that level while also using good communication tips if possible.

        Another interesting thing about Gottman’s research is it found that happy couples don’t use good reflective listening or other things that books teach.

        They are able to have a lot of good will and positivity and even humor when discussing things and they never use contempt. That’s the 5 to 1 positive ratio in conflict we discussed recently.

        We don’t discuss things with positivity. That’s the problem we are trying to fix. To do that you obviously need to increase the relationship’s positivity.

        And there are definite basic communication strategies that give a positive response. Like me not bringing up a topic if I am flooded and him responding with something more affirming than “it’s no big deal”.

        That is what we talked about this week, coming up with a literal script with comments that would be helpful for both of us in response to give a more positive vibe when we discuss things.

        We have eliminated contempt so that is good.

        Thanks for your thoughts.

      23. Linbo,

        You are too kind! What initials do I need so everyone listens to me and cleans up after themselves?

        Or the initials that make my husband listen to me? 😉

        And I don’t know why everyone doesn’t take comfort in research. It tells you the problem and how to fix it. Mostly for free on the Internet! But I guess other people figure it out other ways, weird creatures that they are. 😉

        1. Lisa,
          I don’t know about initials, but possible phrases might be “because I said so” or “if you don’t want to sleep alone..”
          Lol. Really can’t help you with that one. But, if all of a sudden you start seeing little green men that want to take you in their space ship, I could probably prescribe something…:)

      24. Lisa,

        I’ve also read about the communications techniques basically going out the window during conflict. I was kind of hoping that this proactive little communication thing I suggested could work somewhat, because it could be used before something that hopefully wouldn’t be a conflict at all.

        I believe I also find it very upsetting when a a partner avoids eye contact a lot. Ugh.

        “Now we are working on scripts so when I say x, he knows it sooths me to say y and not z and vice versa.”
        That’s good. 🙂

        Ok Lisa, please tell me if i’m out of line:
        I know you’re not perfect and everything, but an avoidant person sounds difficult to deal with. Like you said to Drew, like walking a cat. My point is that we can’t be special and difficult snowflakes in too many areas. So I’m thinking that it would behoove your hubby to be very cooperative regarding housework, if he hasn’t already. I get that no one likes it, but at least he could do it on his own, with no negative intensity from anyone, not having to make eye contact during conflict and everything.

        I get that people have different levels of cleanliness and clutter they’re ok with, so I like the whole “clutter as much as you want during the day, but before you go to bed, clean up after yourself without me having to tell you”-idea. In addition to dividing up the chores. Seems pretty fair to me.

        I get that the avoidant thing is as real as the anxious pattern. It just seems to me like not doing housework isn’t because of some deep attachment trauma you know, so I have less patience with that (in addition to this being very triggering for me personally). Just doing it no matter how boring/frustrating should be the deal. But maybe you were talking about your kids no cleaning up after themselves.

        Virtual hug should you want it Lisa!

      25. Ugh, the blog ate a comment I think.

        I just wanted to add that if you don’t really know how to do housework or you haven’t properly figured out an effective system (I’m working on this right now in my own life, even though I grew up with chores it can be very frustrating), housework can be very frustrating and invoke anxiety.

        There are many ways to divide chores, I know of someone where one week she does verything, the other week he does everything. But one of the reasons I’m fan of People specializing a little bit (but again, the most important thing is finding something that works) is that there’s less to figure out. Someone can work out a system for the kitchen and always do that, someone can do the same for the bathroom. And so on.

    2. Donkey,

      I just saw your question about the proactive convo. I don’t have time right now but I do have some thoughts on your suggestions. Thanks for taking the time.

      Also you know I love your humor because I would tell you if I didn’t. 😉

      I laughed out loud at the using the home excuses at work comment to Shannon. You’re such a nag boss! Very funny stuff!

    3. Matt said,

      “Like most people, I was rolling with Kings of Leon in 2008-09 because all of the songs on Notion that never got radio play were awesome. But I’ve never thought of them as ‘angry.’ In fact, based on that album only — I think I have the next one too, but never play it — I’d call them soft rock. Like Dave Matthews or whatever. Disturbed is angry. Rage Agaisnt the Machine is angry. System of a Down is angry. What am I missing about Kings of Leon?”

      When I was lamenting the death of angry rock, I may not have used the best (or clarifying enough) word. People immediately began suggesting bands with a very loud, harsh and metal sound, which wasn’t really what I was going for. Though I have love for Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, Rob Zombie, etc., I was talking less about rock that sounds like rageful anger than rock that is fueled by a kind of righteous anger. Rock that has a chip on its shoulder. Rock that drips sweat into its own eyes. Rock that feels like it’s flipping its middle finger at the world. Rock that sings with a bloody lip. Rock with grit. Rock with weight. Rock with force. Rock that’s bruised. Rock that’s trying to walk off the pain. Rock that says “screw the Man!” Rock that isn’t meant for the club, but for the dive bar. You wound me by labeling KOL soft rock, and equating it with the folksy Dave Matthews. Listen to “Closer” or “Charmer” and tell me what’s soft about that. Tell me a Dave Matthews song that sounds anywhere near as edgy and pissed off as “No Money” or “Don’t Matter”. Soft rock is Coldplay. Soft rock is OneRepublic. Both great bands, but for sheer four-men-shedding-their-blood-sweat-and-tears-via-their-instruments, KOL mops the bloody floor with them. Yeah, I’ve got my fist raised in the air right now. What of it, punk?

      1. “Closer” is my fave KOL track.

        And I appreciate, and understand, your distinction.

        I don’t know what you think of Oasis, but they (and now Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds) accomplish that same sort of thing.

        Noel’s two albums post-Oasis are worth a go, unless you don’t like his voice, in which case you’re a bad person who discriminates against British people.

      2. Matt said,

        “I don’t know what you think of Oasis, but they (and now Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds) accomplish that same sort of thing.

        Noel’s two albums post-Oasis are worth a go, unless you don’t like his voice, in which case you’re a bad person who discriminates against British people.”

        I lost track of Oasis after their first two albums, but you’re right that I should give them another look-see (listen-hear?), though by suggesting them, you’re just supporting my assertion that virtually no one has elected to carry on the torch of authentic down-‘n’-dirty rock in the new century. And trust me, for every American band or artist I love, there are six UK ones I adore, so you’ll get no Brit hate from me. Well, except for Morrissey; God Almighty, how I loathe that guy.

        1. Not Oasis, good sir. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. They have two albums, and both are solid.

          Noel was the Oasis frontman, but he and his brother Liam used to get in drunken fist fights all the time, so the band broke up, and both started new bands (Liam’s is called Beady Eye or something), but I’ve always preferred Noel.

          But let’s not get crazy or anything. You’ve already made me write more positive things about him than I care to, since I probably like at least 100 other bands/albums better.

          But whatever. Listen to Noel G. anyway.

      3. (*cringes*)

        (*in a frightened whisper*) Mommy, the blog man is scaring me…

      4. Travis

        I’m too tired to figure out the thread above so I’m responding here.

        You said:
        Lisa said,

        “Well I knew someone was going to present my intensity and my husbands no big deal in gender terms which is why I purposely threw in that my SON is also like this and my daughter is not.”

        I hope you knew that was meant totally in jest; hence, the playful phrasing I used. Sheesh, you’re coming off kinda intense about this.

        That was another joke. Please, God, tell me you’re smiling”

        I thought you were serious but I wasn’t mad. I thought you were serious because we just talked about this stuff with our marriage counselor and he says stereotypical stuff sometimes. Like John “like a typical man just takes things literally” when he isn’t like that.

        And he was trying to make the intensity thing about gender.

        But I’m thinking about it and it kind of is about gender. Not in the expression of intensity but in the sensitivity of negative intensity.

        Gottman’s new book for men talks about that. To have a successful marriage, a man must expect and know how to respond to his wife’s negative emotions.

        Most men don’t mind if his wife is brimming with joy. Thrilled to see him! Excited about the sex!

        It’s not intensity that bothers most men, it’s negative intensity. She’s angry or crying or frustrated.

        That is my husbands thing. He is ok with my positive intensity just not the negetive. Because he doesn’t have the right tools yet to know how to sooth me. Telling me it’s no big deal is not it!

        And I mean that in a normal relationship you know how to respond to each other to help each other not to regulate their emotions.

        I like what you were talking about in terms of reframing things. I defintely have changed a lot through using Cognitive Therapy to realize my distorted all or nothing thinking.

        Now we are working on scripts so when I say x, he knows it sooths me to say y and not z and vice versa. The frustrating part is I can tell him exactly what to say and not say and he can’t tell me.

        Drives me crazy! How can you not know? I guess that the downside to not thinking in simple flow charts.

        PS I love that you think of your wife’s intensity that way! You sound like a great couple.

      5. Lisa said,

        “You sound like a great couple.”

        Well, I think we’re a hell of a lot of fun, very unique and never boring. Having said that, I feel like there are a lot of people drawn to, and inspired by, the bond we have and the way we interact with each other. Yet, for many others, we’re a bit too much, LOL.

  6. zentrifiedlawyermom

    I’ve been thinking hard about your post about leaving your wife at the hospital after you had your son. Obviously that post struck a huge nerve/chord with a lot of people. Myself included. But I also saw past the hurtful memories it brought up for me, and realized something that I’ve realized many times over in my life, in many different ways. I used to be a prosecutor and part of my job was to encourage and convince 12 people to judge another person as harshly as they possibly could for whatever horrific crime that person had committed. I was so black and white in my views at that point in my life. (I was also in my 20s). As I’ve gotten older and lived more, I’ve known people who have committed various crimes, and because of my personal relationship with them, have gotten more insight than meets the eye on why they did some of those things. I’ve realized that people are more than any single act they do. They are much more than just their worst mistake. That’s hard grace to extend to someone who has done something extremely horrific, or who has very personally hurt you. But is it the grace you want extended to you so that you aren’t 40 years old and still known as the girl who (insert dumbass thing you did drunk at a party in college). What you’ve written today is the next step in that process, also extending that grace to yourself. Even if other people aren’t. It’s hard to forgive other people, and sometimes harder to forgive yourself. But, everyone makes mistakes. Big ones. And the way to keep our human connections flowing is to forgive and love on. Good stuff, man.

  7. You know to me the trick is to balance being secure and confident in myself with being open to listen to people telling me I’m full of shit.

    Get those two things right at the same time and I’ll have mastered who to be a healthy adult in a healthy relationship.

    1. Because sometimes we think we are the One and we’re just delusional.

      1. Nah, I’m really the one 😉

        Actually what you say about criticism is huge. I think that when looking for a partner, it’s important to find someone who is willing to put us in our place when needed. I’ve had a discussion with a buddy about this. He thinks you always need to support your partner no matter what. I disagree. Being in a relationship doesn’t mean you have to be a yes person, people are different and it’s alright to disagree with each other (not saying you call them out in public though). The person you love SHOULD be able to tell you when they disagree, and that should be alright.

      2. Drew,

        So your buddy thinks you can never disagree?

        I agree that you should always support each other but sometimes support is looking to the long term health of the relationship by not just adapting to their shit. Support is sometimes setting boundaries. Etc.

        My husband and I are working now on this concept. How to validate your spouses feelings and find as much as you can that you agree with up front. And then to say how you disagree.

        I usually just start with what I disagree with. ;(
        And my avoidant husband usually just tells me whatever I am upset about is not a big deal. 🙁

        Neither of these approaches are very supportive.

      3. zombiedrew said,

        “He thinks you always need to support your partner no matter what. I disagree.”

        I agree with it only insofar as I believe you should always make a point (save for the most egregious exceptions) to stand up for and openly support your spouse with all outside parties (extended family, friends, the general populace, etc.), even when you disagree with them. Back home, one on one, you should then feel safe to be able to communicate your concerns about whatever your spouse said/did/believed to them and, if your spouse agrees, they can save their own face by going back to the outside party in question and owning their own shit, versus appearing to have been embarrassed/condescended to/put in their place by their own life partner right in the moment. I believe it’s more important for your spouse to be made to feel protected and honored than publicly set straight.

      4. Hey Travis, I mostly agree with that. I definitely wouldn’t condone publicly setting your partner straight. But if they do something that’s kind of awful, I also wouldn’t support them just because other people are around. In that kind of situation I would somewhat remove myself from the interaction, or play mediator or something and then talk to them in private later.

        Though depending on what has happened, sometimes it can be hard to hide that fact that you disapprove and/or are pissed off.

      5. Drew, theoretically, I agree with you. I guess I’ve just never suffered through the misfortune of my wife doing or saying anything so egregiously awful in public. If you have encountered such an experience, you have my sympathies. That must have been a difficult situation to artfully navigate.

  8. “I want women to think of me as attractive and want me, sexually. Because that’s what will most improve my status and standing in the eyes of others.”

    Matt, this really is the bottom line. Cut through all the layers of complexity and reduce us to our biological selves and this what you’re left with. This is what makes us happy. When woman accept that what men really want from us is to think of them as attractive and desire them sexually, it makes all interpersonal relationships so much easier.

    Now here’s the problem with women, that is so politically incorrect these days. At our core what we really want is for men to find us attractive and to want us sexually. However for women, that’s bad very, very bad. We are shamed endlessly for not being virtuous enough or for being too sexual or for even understanding how these things work in the first place. This often causes women to perceive our own sexuality negatively. Rather then being “delighted in,” we are told we are “being objectified.” Rather than embracing the approval we are receiving we are told we are slutty and that men are perverse.

    We often just shut down, both emotionally and sexually, and not only deny the nature of our own selves, but in the process we can no longer validate men, acknowledge that we find them attractive and desire them sexually, even when we do. So women, totally suppressed, now become unable to give men what they need, which is simply our approval.

    1. I like your thoughts here, IB. There is more to talk about, for sure.
      I agree that feminism has taken a wrong turn- we objectify men, too. I’d like to talk more. I will have to step up and write my thoughts out clearly and succinctly. Cant do that right at this moment, but will.
      Thanks for the conversation IB 🙂

  9. Errr…not feeling this at all today. High anxiety. You know how you meet a new group of people and you hang out together and everything seems cool, and then next time you see them you feel like they’ve all had a conversation about how much you don’t belong?
    Yeah, feeling like that.
    I am the one…oommmm….I am the one…..ommmm…..
    Usually an indication that I’m spending way too much time on the wrong things…

    1. As long as you don’t say words like ‘filigree’ and ‘milquetoast’, you’re still cooler than me. On a serious note, are you saying Matt’s post flew wide of its target for you?

      1. Do you mean from my comment previously, or my “Not feeling this at all today”?
        Either way…I do agree in some measure to it. But, I’m still thinking…
        I know in my case, and I can only speak for me, that if I had more male influence from my dad to see how men operate, and more influence from my mom on how to be girly I would have felt more secure in developing relationships.
        There always seemed to be some mystery around attracting men, something that I didn’t have and it always made me feel so out of control helpless- like I would never get it. Again- it was some mystery that I didn’t understand.
        I tend to think that if I did have some reassurance of my worth, as a human being and as a female, growing up I wouldn’t need it so much now. But, the fact of the matter is, there are parts of me that still need outside validation. I can regulate my emotions, but I still feel them.

      2. Linbo asked,

        “Do you mean from my comment previously, or my ‘Not feeling this at all today’?

        The latter.

      3. Travis,
        You asked: “On a serious note, are you saying Matt’s post flew wide of its target for you?”
        I really think I was just in a weird funk. Ironically, because I have spent so much time here over the last week or two, I felt anxious that I wasn’t fitting in- that I could be ostracized at any moment..(shifting eyes back and forth…:). That’s the vulnerability in relating, in putting yourself out there to be seen.
        I re-read it, again. I’m kind of stuck because while ,yes, I do believe that no one can tell you who you are (There is a children’s book called Punchinello that talks about essentially the same thing. ) we live in a larger society and we definitely ingrain messages of who we are and who we ought to be.
        That is how our brains work. We experience something either positive or negative and we make judgements about its meaning- about OUR meaning in regards to the rest of the society.
        But, do I think we need to embrace what he was saying about “No one can tell me if I’m worthy or not, only I can” – Yes. Is it easy, uh- no.. 🙂

    2. I can see dozens of gender issues popping up all over Matt’s post, so if I were prone to anxiety I too would be “not feeling this at all today.”

      Men often wrestle with feeling unworthy and that’s sad and painful, but for women, feeling unworthy can be an entire state of being. We are never thin enough, young enough, smart enough, pretty enough…. we are constantly told we are defective in some way. Women need to heal from this, we need to embrace the idea that “we are worthy, we are the one,” but while men have to leap over a creek to get there, women must traverse a wide canyon that is full of alligators.

      1. Lol- really I know anxiety so well, I should have no problem with wrestling a few of them. But then, I may get branded as manly and that would just a add a few Gators to the canyon.
        Just by the sheer fact that we have learned how to handle as much emotional BS as we do, we should know we can kick a few alligators asses!

      2. insanitybytes22, if the evidence backs up what Linbo said in a recent thread, “The man card will destroy men. It will kill men’s souls, it will kill connection, it can lead men to substance abuse and suicide.”, then I daresay you might have understood the male experience with this issue.

        1. Well, I remain unconvinced that the “man card” is necessarily a bad thing, the problem being none of us really know what the “man card” is, likely including men themselves. Somewhat funny, people like John Wayne, the stereotypical man card carrier, is alleged to have been very demonstrative and affectionate, having high emotional intelligence and a great love for women. But the “man card” as in being stoic, emotionally detached, having a hard heart, very harmful to yourself and to those around you. Masculinity is awesome, beautiful, it serves a vital purpose in the world, the problem being so few of us can really define it properly.

      3. IB,
        When I talk about the man card I am not talking about not living up to your full potential. If your good at athletics- go be the best you can be. If you are naturally a thinker that doesn’t say much- then ok, but that shouldn’t be forced upon you because your biggest fear is to appear weak or stupid. ,’s not even really about the doing- its about what is going on, on the inside.
        There is tons and tons of peer reviewed, seriously scholastic research that shows that we train boys to NOT FEEL EMOTION. It isn’t manly.
        I went to the park yesterday and overheard a man tell his maybe 7 year old son that the 7 year old son was not out of breath and to keep moving. There is encouragement and then there is just stupid brutishness.
        If you read the article I posted yesterday the first few paragraphs talk about “Restrictive masculinity” – Meaning abiding by the no emotion, or at least lack of emotional honesty. They may feel a certain way but they wont share it- not with their wives and not even with their buddies. They list the common issues that occur with that kind of masculinity. …that list came from dozens and dozens of studies on the topic.
        There is also a New York Times Article, I will repost it. – My point is, that there is no doubt that the man card that I am talking about- the no one gets in and nothing gets out is dangerous and destructive to men. Absolutely.
        They are human beings just like us. Of course they have emotion. The have feelings they have no words for, and no one who they know they can trust with those things.

      4. IB,
        And yeah- you can totally be a wrangler wearing cowboy with nice buns and still be emotionally intelligent.
        Its not the masculinity I want to get away from. I like men!!!
        Its the emotional blunting that is the problem.

        1. Linbo, my issue is that a certain amount of emotional blunting may be inherent to men biologically and some other aspects of it may have developed to keep society running along smoothly. There are extremes of course, men who are emotionally remote and avoidant, and that is not a good thing.

          The problem is I really see our society trying to push men away from who and what they are and to transform them into something that looks more female like. So we have turned to that extreme too, feminized men who are needy, feeling based, and rejecting the essence of who they really are because society is now telling them that this is what women want, or this is what society wants.

          1. IB,
            Im certainly not for feminizing males. I get that hormones like testosterone, play a huge part in the brain development of male fetuses. Their brains are slightly different. I get that. And if that is who they are then great.
            I see too often men teaching their boys to shut off their emotions.(The more I think about it- the more it is there, seriously.) It’s not that I think men should be emotional bascketcases, but they need to be aware of their emotions and learn how to “use” them for a lack of a better word. It’s pro-emotional intelligence. If you dont know what to do with anxiety or fear, relieving it via visiting prostitutes or getting drunk will help alleviate it temporarily. But if you can identify this is anxiety you can work towards better solutions.Example: I am anxious that no one likes me. I can reach out and see if that is true. I am anxious that I really am not as smart as I let myself think and everyone thinks Im a dumbass- again, I can reach out and see if that is true (And then hopefully alter my behaviors).
            So, what I am pro for is- letting boys feel emotions so they are better able to cope with them.
            As far as society is concerned. We’ve already made a huge shift when women became a staple in the workforce. I wrote about this a little yesterday, and I may sound a little nutty…
            and this is where I may disagree with Matt’s Premise.
            I do believe that one sex will adjust to the other. On a personal, I need validation level that is not always so healthy, but when you look at the big picture-
            Men have already adjusted some – not to “what women want”, but organically adjusted to womens new social roles.
            I have no interest in making men more feminine. The article I posted, if you read it is assuming this organic shift has occurred. It is a thing. Women are not soley the keeper of the house and the home. Women are autonomous, decision makers. We are living out our full capacity much more than we have in the last century or so. I cant say that is a bad thing. Men have adjusted, too. The article talks about todays anti-heroic masculinity. It’s kind of Matt’s story. I dont think that is where we need to be, either.
            But, I do believe in helping men be allowed to experience emotion and process emotion it will ultimately make them stronger, more secure people.
            Feeling emotions does not take away masculinity. It can be a part of masculinity.
            I’d really like to see more John Waynes- strong and kind. But, when you look around that is not often what you do see.
            You see people who are scared to death of being perceived as less than, because they have no idea who they are (me included! lol 🙂

          2. Sorry, sometimes I am really bad at getting my point across. you said “some other aspects (of emotional blunting?) help keep society moving along”..
            Yes and no. The point I was trying to get to with the thing about womens lib, is society has changed. It’s NOT the same social order.
            If I may, I have a feeling that you may have a particular world view? and if that is so, I don’t oppose it at all- I think I share it with you. But, I think I am looking at it from a different perspective.
            A friend of mine started talking about this the other day…he was actually saying the anti-heroic masculinity that we currently have is due to women living out of their full potential. He didn’t say it in those words, but that is what he was saying.
            My response to that is women have worked hard to better themselves and their lives and we would like nothing more for men to join us.
            That’s what I am for.
            Ok, I’ll get off of soap box now…hope I didn’t scare you! 🙂

      5. I think we are misguided by thinking emotions are feminine. We all have them- women are just allowed to express them more often. any of this making sense?

        1. We do all have emotions and women are allowed to express them more often. I don’t want to see robotic men devoid of emotion, but that’s just it, we are saying that men must express their emotions just like women do, because the way women express their emotions is far superior. I remain unconvinced. I can’t tell you how many times my entire day, my life, has been saved by men’s ability to compartmentalize and suppress their emotions.

          So what you are seeing those fathers do with their kids is not always a bad thing. I remember my son crashing his bike and telling him to walk it off and be proud of his injuries. It was counter-intuitive to that mom thing that just wants to scoop them up and nurture. But he actually spent the day proud of himself, emboldened, feeling strong about having mastered the pavement. Boys and girls, men and women are simply not the same and treating them as if they are can create real problems in the world.

      6. IB said,

        “The problem is I really see our society trying to push men away from who and what they are and to transform them into something that looks more female like. So we have turned to that extreme too, feminized men who are needy, feeling based, and rejecting the essence of who they really are because society is now telling them that this is what women want, or this is what society wants.”

        I disagree with this, but have nothing really more to add for clarification’s sake than what Linbo already posted (and, Linbo, I know you are sometimes anxious if you’re being perceived to be as knowledgeable and well-reasoned as you hope–well, please know you totally nailed it this time out; for every counter-response I came up with, you’d already beaten me to the punch, so kudos and thanks! Saved me some typing!). Society isn’t pushing anything; society has organically evolved into something where the old model of masculinity (which is not an objective concept dictated by Naure, but a subjective one developed by humans) is less and less effective or contributory. For whatever it’s worth, speaking solely to my own personal experience, I have always felt pushed INTO the stereotypical conception of masculinity by society, not away from it (sometimes, I feel life might have been so much easier if I’d actually been born homosexual, but alas, I think women are FOINE and dudes are icky, so here I stand for life, stuck with one foot each in the polar extremes of the modern male). What is considered stereotypical masculinity has never defined “the essence of who I really am”.

        I will, on the other hand, concur with you, IB, about the danger of infantilizing young men (and women, too), by allowing every emotional moment to “brimmeth over” (the child falling off the bike example). It’s not about letting emotions rule the person or every situation, but it does involve a healthy rapport with one’s own emotional makeup and changed societal messaging to indicate that while not every emotion (or level/intensity thereof) is appropriate for any given circumstances, having and expressing emotions in and of themselves is not a sign of weakness or a masculinity failure.

      7. IB,
        Hi there. First, I want to let you know that I think I get where you are coming from, and the likelihood of actually convincing you to see another way may be slight so I am not really trying to do that. But, I would like to just clarify somethings that may be getting in the way of understanding.
        IB Said ” but that’s just it, we are saying that men must express their emotions just like women do, because the way women express their emotions is far superior. ”
        I just want you to know that is no where near what I am saying or thinking.
        I want men to 1) be allowed to feel and express their emotions without the fear of being rejected by women. They can express them however they want, I just want them to be aware of what they are feeling so that it doesn’t become overwhelming for them later. 2.) I think this is the healthy thing to do for both sexes- not because I think women are far superior- at all.
        I wish I could draw a diagram, or find an RSA short to illustrate what I am talking about. – It’s simply this.
        Women did not feel like they were living in a way that really made them feel alive. Womens main role in society was mother and caregiver. As Lisa Gottman has written- this role is not exactly life giving to her naturally. Yes, she is taking it on, but there is more to Lisa Gottman, or myself or you than our role as caregiver.
        So, women pushed forward to create new arenas for them the function. I know this can be a politically charged topic, I wish we could take that out of the equation and just see the people. And it wasn’t against men, as in “All men are awful”. Men just happened to be the ones in control. It was the control we didn’t like, not the men.
        So, in my mind women elevated themselves to the next level- saying, I’m stretching my legs, I am building my muscles, I am learning and becoming.
        We just want that for the guys, too. We want them to come up here. In order to do that, they need to learn new skill sets, and learn about themselves.

        IB said “At our core what we really want is for men to find us attractive and to want us sexually. however for women that bad. Verry, very bad. We are shamed endlessly for not being virtuous enough or for being too sexual…this often causes women to perceive their own sexuality negatively. Rather than being “delighted in” we are told we are being objectified. Rather than being embracing the approval we are receiving we are told that we are slutty and that men are perverse.”
        Ok, there are a few things here.
        I will give you- yes women want to be found attractive, and we want to be wanted. I think that is part of the human psyche.
        You said we are shamed endlessly…I have to ask you- who is doing the shaming?
        Because I know when I was growing up- it was the boys who were doing the shaming, after they had sex with you.
        That is, in part, how we are objectified. We were an object for his pleasure, then when he is done- you are no longer worth anything.
        “being delighted in” is very different than being objectified. I really only want to be “delighted in” sexually by one person. MEN- the populous objectifies women sexually by the common use of porn. They don’t care about those women. They don’t “delight” in Buxom Bonnie- they objectify her. We aren’t making that up! It happens at an extremely frequent level!
        Lastly “Rather than embracing the approval we are receiving we are told that we are slutty and that men are perverse.”
        Believe me, I would totally embrace the approval of the man I loved and I would give it back to him. I just don’t think it is common that we are told we are slutty and that men are perverse.
        Nobody told me men were perverse- I SEE that men are perverse!
        Ask Matt or Travis. They are perverse- in a fun loving “they’re just boys” kind of way. (I’m not including Drew because I haven’t seen that much perversion from him yet…)
        And while it doesn’t bother me, I cant help but ask why men can get away with that and women cant? Why is it almost expected of them and dismissed?
        That is part of the socialization that we do with me. And if guys don’t play along with trashing a woman, or objectifying her, with his boys his man card is at stake.

        I really appreciate your words of advice to kick the alligators in the nose.
        I know you may see all of this stuff differently, but I cant deny that it exists and that it isn’t healthy.

  10. The problem is when men are trying to attract “women” rather than trying to find and make a connection with a best friend for life. And vice verse.

    1. No doubt. Which begs the question: Why does the former seem more appealing than the latter to so many, when, as you’ve identified, it’s a problem and makes life crappier for all parties?

      1. I think because we mistakenly think they are the same thing.

        If I work to do things to “get” my spouse to be attracted to me, they will respond to me in a way that lets us be in love forever.

        Doesn’t work that way but we think it does.

      2. Matt,

        Could an answer be that attraction is easier than connection. Magnets will attract iron filings through paper — no problem there. Establishing connection requires purposeful action and a sense that there is a path toward success which has proven “fail-proof” in the past.

    2. Exactly
      What happened to appeal to the individual girl? What happened to being capable? What happened to just collecting friends and seeing what happens? What happened to that?

  11. Interesting little side note (at least I think it’s interesting and since I don’t seek external validation, go pound sand if you disagree! 😉 )…

    Last night, I talked about the recent man card/definition of masculinity stuff we’ve all been on a kick on about this week here at MBTTTR and I asked her, “Recognizing that I’m pretty far down the line from the Marlboro Man, and excepting anything physical about me, what would you say is the most stereotypically masculine thing about me?” She answered, “You’re almost never afraid of anything. You meet what life throws at you rather fearlessly.” Truly shocked and surprised at her response, because I’ve never considered that in my self-estimation, I half-jokingly retorted, “Hey, you know I’m freaked out by spiders!”, to which she replied, “Yeah, but when there’s one in the house, and the kids and I are peeing our pants about it, you’re always the one who steps up without complaint and kills it, even that one time when it was a black widow.”

    Hmm. So I guess it turns out one CAN be a warrior poet outside of the pages of fiction.

    1. Travis,

      That is the awesome!!!! I can’t think of a better compliment anyone could give.

      “She answered, “You’re almost never afraid of anything. You meet what life throws at you rather fearlessly.”

      1. It was feedback I certainly didn’t expect. I remember being afraid of so much as a child and, in our inner dialogues, I think we often still feel very close to our childhood selves, like they’re the truest form of ourselves, and we’re just playing along at this whole adult thing. So I guess it never occurred to me, until I saw things through her eyes, that maybe somehow, unbeknownst to myself, I managed to grow up into someone who’d shed most of those fears away. It was nice to realize, and to be recognized for it.

    2. I kinda teared up a bit ready this! Your wife must feel very secure about you as a husband.

      I’m curious, do you agree with her assessment? Do you think that particular trait is a “man” trait? I guess what I’m asking is, did her answer fall in line with what your conception of masculinity is?

      I’m curious as well…is that a trait you recognize within yourself? Do YOU believe you meet life fearlessly?

      If I’m being too nosy, tell me to f off ?

      1. anitvan said,

        “I’m curious, do you agree with her assessment? Do you think that particular trait is a “man” trait? I guess what I’m asking is, did her answer fall in line with what your conception of masculinity is?”

        Well, I guess the most accurate way to answer that would be that I view what she said as conveying that I display strength. Strength of character. Strength of resolve. Strength by avoiding a victim mentality. Strength of being willing to step up. So, though I don’t believe these types of strengths are defined by masculinity (in other words, they are not something alien to, or ill-fitting of, the female gender, nor something that makes them less of a woman when displayed), yes, I do believe masculinity is, at its core, defined by these types of strength. I suppose the strength of being able to screw the tight top of the pickle jar off is a bonus.

        “I’m curious as well…is that a trait you recognize within yourself? Do YOU believe you meet life fearlessly?”

        I spoke to this in the post immediately preceding you. I’m a bit uncomfortable with that degree of self-assessment. I fear it leads to the path of ego inflation and self-importance. I’ll say this–the conviction with which she said it made it very easy for me to believe. It’s very fulfilling sometimes to go beyond the internal thought, “this is why someone should love me” and be presented with an external “this is why I love you”, especially when the reason(s) give is not one of the ones you play over and over in your own narrative of self.

        “If I’m being too nosy, tell me to f off ?”

        No worries. I’m certainly not on the blog to be guarded.

  12. Travis,

    I am offering this with a bit of hesitation because on some level it seems rather simplistic to me and yet….. here goes.

    “In America there is a big debate now about what makes a good ‘morani’, a good warrior. Some say a man is one who is strong and tough, able to be fierce. Yet others say a good ‘morani’ is someone who is gentle and sensitive to others, able to respond with kindness. What are your thoughts? What is most important to know about being a man?”

    “The question made the rounds through the circle (of men only) then the oldest in the group stood up and replied, ‘ I refuse to tell you what makes a good ‘morani’ but I will tell you what makes a GREAT ‘morani’. When the moment calls for fierceness a good ‘morani’ is very ferocious. And when the moment calls for kindness, a good ‘morani’ is utterly tender. Now, what makes a GREAT MORANI is knowing which moment is which!”

    The location of this group conversation is in a remote Masai village in Tanzania. The story is in, “How Can I Get Through to You? by Terrence Real

    1. Simplistic, yes, but the most salient truths often are. Maybe the journey to become a “great morani”* is unclear for many of us, but I can’t argue that it isn’t the ultimate destination.

      * I’ve been called a “great moron” before. Does that count?

      1. Ok I am bad at grammar and spelling. It’s 2 letters away. More work for you Travis.

  13. I have a younger friend who spent a year traveling and taking part time jobs on the way. He worked at a ski camp in the French Alps, he excavated in Romania, I can’t remember what else he did , but he is an avid consumer of culture. His inspiration for travel, and a lot of cool travel and life tips came from a book called Vagabonding. It is a good read. Unless it raises discontent- then it’s a awful book, arrr it should be used as toilet paper, arrrr…. I would love to be able to do that- my reason for not is I’m a sappy sentimentalist that can’t leave my shelter dogs for a year. And I like showers. But, (and this sounds awful) I have estimated how long they will live, and what I would likely be doing at that time- “maybe then would be a good time to travel”…
    One of the things that my friend talked about A Lot was not doing a 2 week vacation anywhere. Take a month, 3 months. Don’t be rushed to see everything in the span of 2 weeks. You won’t remember it.
    If you are lucky enough to be in a position to do that, then- yeah- it can be a totally enriching experience.
    I really liked that you mentioned that interacting with people different than you can enrich your life,too.
    Hopefully you will have the opportunity *someday* to visit different people and places. – they may change a bit, but they’re not going anywhere…:)
    So far my list is Scotland with my BFF,
    Greece (where I may never come back from if I do get to go)
    And beleive it or not- Good old South Carolina. They’ve got great gardens and beaches. Id be in heaven….

  14. To All:

    One day, while studying in library (college years) a young man approached me, said, “hello” and introduced himself. After just a few sentences into the conversation I offered that I had a boyfriend ( a total lie) and thought it might be O.K. if we became friends.

    I remember, even today, the look of contempt on his face as he said, “Why the hell would I want to be friends with you? I have all the friends I need.” He turned away and walked quickly down the aisle toward the exit without saying another word.

    I admit I was naïve and “unschooled” in the ways of male/female relationships. It took me several years to accept and absorb the reality of what that young man was expressing.

    Even today, I feel sadness when I remember that encounter. It also left me wary and suspicious of all the young men on campus the entire length of my college years. Needless to say it was a disheartening and frustrating time.

    I was left wondering, “why wasn’t I suitable for friendship?” I could understand wanting a girlfriend — but what was it about me, specifically, that disqualified me from being a friend?

  15. Fromscratchmom

    to share a couple of raw snippets from recent journal entries, the negatives that sometimes come out amidst the positives:

    “…I have been having some pretty goofy thoughts about a desire for a future marriage…well, possibly just sad thoughts. I’d like to say it’s all in good fun, but the sad side is even though I recognize the humor of it I also recognize that it’s actually extremely appealing to me and almost a relief to realize that, low though the odds may be, its not impossible. My little joke…has been that I’m going to have to luck into either a plastic surgeon or a blind man. I have no idea yet how I’m going to resolve this in my head and in my heart…and then there’s the fear that putting body image issues and the warped sexuality of our society aside that which lies beneath is what’s even more unworthy or repulsive. But I know that God has been helping and healing me all along and he will continue in that. Many other things have been resolved. There’s been a lot of improvement. I’m going to continue praying that God will mold me, make me good for all the other people that I should have connections to as well as that he’ll make me good for one particular someone and make that man good for me.”

    “…Every man, from my dad on, whose ever claimed to love me has actually ended up hating me and not after a long time, pretty nearly immediately and interspersed throughout the years of claiming love. I’ve nearly had better relationships with my molesters than with any men that stuck around for a little longer because at least they didn’t attack me in an ongoing fashion and drive the hate home so successfully. I’m scared. I know my thoughts and feelings are irrational in this tonight, unreliable and some of them may be dangerous. I know it’s about them when men choose to be monsters. But I’m scared that it’s really me that inspires men to hate. I’m scared that even if it is them that now I’ll be so damaged that I’ll never be capable of being good to anyone even who is a good person. I need more God because by myself I’m dying here. But with God all things are possible. Please God, please.”

    The truth is other people have a powerful effect on us. Just like a baby neglected, never held will also never thrive, any human who experiences more attack than support and love will be hurt, will be effected. Others people’s valuation of us and treatment of us does effect us. That’s why the command to love everybody matters so much. That’s why it’s the chief thing. Lifting up others is about the best thing we can do with our time here on earth.

    One of the more appealing parts of being in a permanent commitment, in a truly good relationship, is being good for that other person on such a primal and foundational level.

    1. Fromscratchmom,

      You are worthy and loveable!

      You said: “But I’m scared that it’s really me that inspires men to hate”

      I remember from a very young age having this deep fear, this deep shame, that I was fundamentally bad. Even as I started being serious about my healing, it persisted and persisted, and it seemed impossible that it could ever change. But it has (through a lot of things, jungian-ish psychology, inner child work and shadow work was instrumental for me). I’m not all the way there, or 85-90 % there (I don’t think anyone is 100% happy and healthy, so I’m not reaching for that). But so much better. Progress, not perfection.

      If I may be so bold….That fear you have, consider asking yourself, perhaps in your journaling, what positive function it serves for you. Does it keep you from dating seriously so you won’t get hurt again? Do you feel less guilty about other things because you’re punishing yourself with this thought? Does it remind you of how you felt around important people in your life who you wanted to feel loved by, so it’s a way for you to feel close to them? Does it help you feel some sort of control, because if you’re shaming yourself you think you can control how other people view you so you won’t have to face rejection/hurt?

      Questions like these have been very useful to me, but please feel very free to disregard them if they’re not helpful for you (and I of course wasn’t asking you to share here if you don’t want that!). Give me a shout if you’re interested in some of the stuff I’ve read. But like Marilyn Sims said, you know better than anyone what’s needed for you

      Big virtual hug for you!

  16. Scratchmom

    Dear lovely woman, I am so very, very sorry that your life experiences have left you feeling so raw, shattered and flawed.

    Please, please know that without a doubt you are loveable, valuable, brave and beautiful..
    Always remember your recovery will be easier if you have trustworthy companions who can help you along the way. I don’t know when the abuse occurred; I do know that what saved my sanity was a book titled, “The Courage To Heal” by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis. They are writing for survivors of childhood abuse — I believe it has significant value for all survivors — no matter what the age. It is available through Amazon.

    Also, it helped me to remember that I was NEVER responsible for the behavior of trespassing adults. Believe that NOT YOU, NOT YOUR BODY, NOT ANY PART OF YOUR BEING WAS COMPLICIT IN THESE OFFENSES.

    I wish you the Love you deserve, the peace you desire, the tranquility that will restore your soul. God’s speed!


  17. scratchmom:

    I hope this is not a repeat of comments made here before. Somehow they got lost in cyberspace.

    In any case, please know that I am so very, very sorry that life has left you feeling so raw, shattered and flawed. Please know that without a doubt you are loveable, valuable, brave and beautiful. You are these because they are inherent; you are these because you are a facet of the miraculous gem that is the COSMOS.

    As you go about the healing process, remember what HAPPENED TO YOU is not the fault of YOUR BODY, NOT THE FAULT OF YOUR ACTIONS, NO PART OF YOU WAS COMPLICIT IN THE TRESSPASS THAT OCCURED.

    Adults are responsible and answerable for their behavior. I will not assume what to suggest to speed your healing. I do know what helped me. A book titled, “The Courage to Heal” by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis saved my sanity. It is available from Amazon.

    Please lovely lady continue to reach out to those who can light the path for you. Healing is possible. It is arduous, you must and will grieve — please hold on and believe that you will not be left alone to travel by yourself.

    I wish for you the Love you deserve, the peace you desire and the tranquility that will restore your soul. GOD’S SPEED!!

    1. “But I’m scared that it’s really me that inspires men to hate”

      Oh, those are such poignant and powerful words and they often do stem from abuse.

      But it also just the simple lamentation of so many women, it is a recognition of a problem so common to our relationships. Honest to goodness, men often hate us at worst, and disrespect us at best. That is a painful thing for women to deal with because we seek the favor of men. It is part of our design. We desire male approval and rather than being appreciated and delighted in, we are often met with great resentment and disapproval. The origins of men hating on women is often not related to us personally at all, it is not “me” that inspires men to hate at all, it is sexual rejection, it is frustration, it is an inability to understand women, it is culture. But the reasons for it, the cause of it, doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. It’s hard on men too, because they are attracted to us, they desire us…as people they often hate, don’t respect, and deeply resent. That;s a macabre dance right there.

      I was lucky with my husband, he had nine sisters, and I had a rather powerful dislike of women myself, so we were able to talk about it without triggering one another. The more men recognize how they really feel about women, deep down, the less inclined they are to play out those scripts in real life.

      People often forget, but hatred is not the opposite of love, indifference is. Hatred and love can be pretty closely entwined.

      1. Fromscratchmom

        Y’all are all so kind. And I truly appreciate your encouragement. And you too Donkey, (the structure gets wonky sometimes). I’m doing pretty well a lot of the time. There are just a lot of waves of stuff to process through. I guess some of the fear has to be worked on in layers just like the sad and the angry. So I’m going to keep praying and meditating and reading and learning. I’m adding the book recommendation to my list!

        1. HI FSM ! Missed you! I read your update. Believe it or not, this is all good stuff to work through and process. I hope to hear more of how it goes. Hugs to you!!
          YOU are not what inspires men to hate. Hate, contempt and all the rest can become almost default. If it wasn’t you, it would be their job, or their kid, or their neighbor.
          If they aren’t owning up to their emotions and their issues they are pissing in the wind, and blaming it on you.

      2. fromscratchmom

        Thank-you, Linbo! I’m having a pretty good day today. Its weird. Its as if I finally journaled about my deeper fears a few times instead of just all the positives I need to focus on and now I seem to have moved into a stage of fuller acceptance that this is what my ex has chosen and no matter how good a person I want to be in how I view and treat others I just have to accept that he is not and that life will go on without making him into anything better than he is in my mind or worrying about holding out hope that he might choose healing someday. *hugs*

        1. FromScratchMom,
          “Having a good day”-that is good to hear!
          It really makes my heart happy.
          You are a whole, complete human being. You have worth and value. AND, there is a world out there, people out there, moments out there to be enjoyed and felt and lived. You are not over, not finished, not done.
          Thank you for giving my heart a lift!

  18. Fromscratchmom:

    Hello lovely lady! I am so glad you’re here with us. Linbo, and insanitybytes are going to make wonderful companions and supports for you on this journey.

    I believe, as you travel, there will be others arriving right on time to keep you moving along and in the right direction. As always, I wish you Love, Peace and Joy.

    1. fromscratchmom

      Thank-you so much, Marilyn. I could see yours too right there with insanitybytes! *hugs*

  19. Pingback: How to Determine Your Worth as a Person | Must Be This Tall To Ride

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Matt Fray

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