The irony has never been lost on me.
Some divorced guy who shortchanged his marriage offering something that looks and smells like marriage advice. Thousands of people think: “Who’s this asshole, and how could ANYTHING he says possibly matter?”
Plenty have said as much in comments, which means a trillion more thought it without exerting the energy to type it.
And I get it. I promise. I’ve tried hard to not be Advice Guy, and I’ve gotten sucked in at times playing amateur-hour therapist to people because they’ve asked me to, or because I had strong feelings about some aspect of marriage and relationships.
But that’s never what I wanted to be.
What I wanted to be was a real-life human being who was maybe a little bit more honest than most people about a bunch of these Life things we don’t usually talk about because it feels unsafe.
The truth makes people uncomfortable. It’s socially awkward to tell too much of it in the wrong setting. And the amount of vulnerability required to let others inside our REAL thoughts and our REAL fears and our REAL hearts is too much for most of us, most of the time. The vast majority of people I know have no idea I write things here. I don’t tell them.
Maybe I’m afraid.
I often wonder if that person over here or that other one over there has read something I’ve written, and when they’re talking to me, thinks less of me for it but keeps it to themselves trying to be polite.
There are plenty of people in my life with whom I used to have good relationships, and now I don’t. Maybe some of the writing is why.
I’ll probably never know.
But one thing is certain. If what I write here is going to mess with my head and fuel my occasional insecurities and adversely impact my real-life human relationships, then it damn sure better matter.
Which raises an important question.
Does it Matter Anymore?
One of the awesomest writers and speakers in the whole Human Being/Relationships/Life genre is a woman named Glennon Doyle Melton. She’s badass, but not in a fight-you-in-a-dark-alley sort-of way. She just really gets it, I think. We have a similar writing style, a friend pointed out back when I didn’t know who Glennon was. And we sorta do, but she’s better.
The closest thing to a gripe I have with Glennon is that she doesn’t write for me. She is 100-percent, unapologetically writing for women, which is a shame because I’m sure underneath all that she is, lives a bunch of insightful things that could benefit men, too.
As a writer and aspiring author, I try to pay attention to her because she’s like, my female spirit animal, or whatever. I don’t really know what spirit animals are.
So, let me set the stage for the next thing: Glennon is the bestselling author of “Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life” (which I haven’t read, but will) and whose second book “Love Warrior” is set to release in five weeks.
It’s a book about her marriage, and how she and her husband powered through the human messiness that affects all of us and our relationships. She’s likely to sell many, many, many copies.
She has a speaking tour, traveling around the country speaking to groups from a stage, smacking audiences with the same openness and vulnerability she infuses into her writing.
And despite the protest of some of her staff members and marketing people at the publishing company charged with promoting the new book launch, Glennon announced on her blog Momastery today that she and her husband (a central figure in her writing) have separated.
She’s choosing courage and authenticity over masks and book sales. She’s choosing vulnerability over staying hidden. She’s choosing truth over bullshit, even when bullshit feels safer and is infinitely more profitable.
Carry on, warrior, indeed.
Which brings us to me, to the things we discuss here, and to this important question: How much longer can I sit at the keyboard—with ANY semblance of integrity—writing about relationship stuff?
This all started because I got divorced and it sucked and I broke so hard that I didn’t know what to do with myself, and a therapist I spoke to drunk on the phone one night told me I should start writing things down.
She asked me to call her back and let her know how it was going. I never did.
My divorce happened a few months later, but April 1, 2013 is the day the world changed for me. The day before, on Easter Sunday, she took off her ring and said she was leaving. And I remember that moment just fine.
But it still felt the same. I’d spent the past 18 months in the guest room, crying sometimes like a colossal wimp. And then after work Monday, she was gone. A little boy was, too.
And then I cried some more, but it stopped feeling wimpy after a while, because it was all very hard, and it wasn’t a figment of my imagination.
IT ACTUALLY WAS DIFFICULT. For real. And I wasn’t weak or crazy. That’s when—despite being 34 years old—I finally figured out what empathy was, and how epically short I’d fallen of providing a requisite amount to my wife for the previous dozen or so years.
The stories mattered because they were real. Some were raw. Because I was teetering constantly between various states of Broken and Angry and Sad and Hopeful and Introspective and Intoxicated.
Even though my parents divorced when I was 4, and it was really hard, I didn’t know how hard divorce was.
That felt important to me. Divorce is hard. And all this time, when I’d hear about a couple divorcing, I’d think: Ehhhh. People get divorced all the time. I don’t want to do it, or put my son through what I went through, and it totally sucks to be them, but at least no one died or anything!
I never respected its significance. I was fundamentally broken on the inside. It hurts so much for a while, you have trouble doing anything more than staring into space, your body fully tensed, trying not to cry again, and almost forgetting to breathe.
When being alive feels that way every second of your existence for months or years, people start asking themselves whether being alive is actually the attractive proposition they’d always believed it to be.
If divorce is THIS hard, and HALF of all married couples do this, and MOST relationships are ending for reasons so few of us can even explain, then this is a bona fide social crisis. An emergency. Because this FEELS like the end of the world, regardless of whether it is. And if it FEELS like the end of the world, what difference does it make whether it actually is? Right now is real. Right now matters. And millions and millions of others are feeling this same way right this second. I need to tell other guys out there what I think I’ve learned.
It turns out, 60-70 percent of readers ended up being their wives, most of them corroborating my beliefs with a bunch of “Finally! A man who gets it” comments.
Relationship Avoidance After Divorce: It’s a Thing
I haven’t had a girlfriend since my divorce. You know, in the She’s Wearing My Varsity Jacket and Everyone in School Knows We’re a Thing kind-of way.
Maybe I’m afraid.
In those initial months following the world changing on April 1, 2013, my life was defined by the void in the center of it.
The black hole of despair needed filled. I was kind of obsessed with thoughts of dating and how difficult I perceived it to be for a mid-30s single father to meet available (and compatible) people.
I whined about it a lot in blog posts and to friends.
Every trip to the grocery store, or night out with friends, or dinner at a restaurant was a reminder of everything missing in my life.
I can’t tell you what changed. I can’t point to any one, specific thing. But at some point over the past 40 months, the black hole of despair disappeared.
New things filled the void. An evolving relationship with my son. A healing and respectful relationship with his mother. New life adventures, including new writing opportunities, a new business venture, and new human connections.
When friends ask about my dating life, my response now is a million miles away from three years ago when I was feeling sorry for myself all the time: “Honestly? I don’t even think about dating. I go out with people sometimes who I already know, but there are all these other life things happening. Who has time for first dates?”
To which I was recently challenged—fairly, I think.
The spirit of that challenge being: How long can you write with authenticity about that guy you used to be or about relationships when you’re unwilling to show up and be in them yourself? Aren’t you worried about being an observer of your own life, rather than living it?
And what do you say to that?
I don’t know.
I think Glennon said it best in today’s post:
“As you’ll read in Love Warrior, Craig and I endured serious trauma a few years ago. We suffered. My God, we suffered. I was broken, just completely shattered. And then we healed. It was beautiful.
“And this is what I learned: You can be shattered and then you can put yourself back together piece by piece.
“But what can happen over time is this: You wake up one day and realize that you have put yourself back together completely differently. That you are whole, finally, and strong – but you are now a different shape, a different size. This sort of change — the change that occurs when you sit inside your own pain — it’s revolutionary. When you let yourself die, there is suddenly one day: new life. You are Different. New. And no matter how hard you try, you simply cannot fit into your old life anymore. You are like a snake trying to fit into old, dead skin, or a butterfly trying to crawl back into the cocoon, or new wine trying to pour itself back into an old wineskin. This new you is equal parts undeniable and terrifying.
“Because you just do not fit. And suddenly you know that. And you have become a woman who doesn’t ignore her knowing. Who doesn’t pretend she doesn’t know. Because pretending makes you sick. And because you never promised yourself an easy life, but you did promise yourself a true one. You did promise – back when you were putting yourself back together – that you’d never betray you again.”
I’m not who I used to be.
Not when I was a kid. Not when I was a young adult. Not when I was married. Not when I was broken after divorce.
I picked up a bunch of those scattered pieces and got most of them put back together again.
And I mostly look the part. But I am new. I am different.
God, I hope so.
I don’t know what I’m afraid of, or even IF I’m afraid. Maybe I’m afraid of being hurt again. Maybe I’m afraid I’m not strong enough to walk the walk when the feelings fade and difficulty ensues. Or maybe it’s something else.
But here I am, 40 months removed from marriage, and talking about marriage, having not once put into practice most of the things we talk about here in the context of a committed relationship. One of my best friends got divorced one week before me, and just recently got engaged.
What does that make me?
I don’t know.
I started this because it made me feel better.
I kept writing when I realized it accidentally helped others and made them feel better.
And I guess now I’m looking for whatever’s next. As long as it matters to someone, somehow, I’m not even sure I care what it is. I just want it to matter because I do care about THAT.
Because you all saved my life.
Because you matter very much.
I should tell you more often. Because that matters too.