How to be Less of an Asshole in Life and Relationships

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you're an asshole
Yes, even you. (Image/

Sometimes I’d walk into the living room to find my wife watching 16 and Pregnant or some other TV show I thought was stupid or morally baseless.

I could have ignored it.

I could have sat with her to try to better understand the things she liked and why.

I could have suggested another activity that didn’t involve TV or seem stupid to me.

But instead of those mature and relationship-nurturing alternatives, I usually acted like an asshole.

I think deep down in the furthest recesses of my heart and subconscious, I believed I was doing the right thing by reacting negatively.

Because I loved my wife and wanted her to be the best person she could be, I didn’t want her to enjoy watching things that were “beneath” her or “bad” for her.

Because I thought television programming like MTV’s 16 and Pregnant was ultimately a bad influence on young girls and the world in general, I didn’t want my wife supporting it, or even wanting to.

Because she was the person I wanted to have children with, and I was sensitive to the sacred responsibility parents have as moral guides for their kids, I wanted my wife to share my opinions and values—even though I totally watched things like Family Guy, South Park, The League, and other raunchy and sophomoric comedies that have made me laugh through the years.

I didn’t share her tastes, beliefs or opinions about some things, and I sometimes valued my feelings more than hers. I felt morally superior to her on this topic, despite all of the insufferable hypocrisy. And since speaking in mocking tones or even just sarcastic ribbing was NOT something I judged to be hurtful or demeaning (because I loved her and married her, thus couldn’t possibly be trying to cause pain, I reasoned), I’d make asshole comments about her personal entertainment choices.

Sometimes those comments hurt her feelings. Sometimes she’d say so.

Maybe I apologized sometimes. It’s hard to remember.

Mostly, I don’t think I did. I think because I “knew” I was right and she was wrong (Because I just want what’s best for you and our kids, babe!!!), that any resistance from her was met with invalidation and probably some insistence that my “morally and intellectually superior” opinions were somehow more correct than hers.

This is the same kind of thinking hate groups and terrorist organizations use to justify hate speech, discrimination, kidnapping, rape and violent murder—sometimes on a massive scale.

Their beliefs are unwavering absolutes which in their minds gives them the moral high ground to carry out the worst things that happen in the world.

If hostility is your default reaction to people challenging your beliefs, then you probably have some Inner Asshole self-control issues like me.

What you believe may or may not be an established fact. Documented facts are easy enough to prove.

If what you believe can’t be proven easily, it makes sense that others have beliefs that conflict with yours. It would be weird if they didn’t.

If you want to have good relationships and make life suck less, you should stop being an asshole about it. Here’s how.

Think of the Times You Were Proven Wrong Despite Feeling Certain

When you’re in the midst of a disagreement, ask yourself: “Is it possible I’m wrong about this despite feelings of certainty, just like those other times I mistakenly thought I was right?” Of course, it’s possible. But sometimes, you’ll feel certain in your correctness anyway. You probably mostly will because of the Actor-Observer Bias, which you accidentally use every day to forgive yourself for behaviors and actions you typically admonish others for doing (texting while driving, using profanity, having an affair, etc).

Unfortunately, your feelings of certainty are not always a reliable measuring stick for determining truth. Feeling certain has no bearing on whether your beliefs, opinions, or even what you think you know, is actually true. We can feel equally certain about things that are right as we do about things that are wrong.


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The best thing I’ve done following my marriage imploding and subsequent divorce was closely examine how my behavior contributed to my divorce and intentionally seek out explanations for how—despite how uncomfortable it sometimes made (and continues to make) me feel—my choices were largely responsible for the relationship’s death and depriving my young son of a better life with his family intact.

I was always so certain of my correctness, and that bullshit “certainty” fueled the asshole behavior that ultimately led to my life’s worst moments.

I believe the key to being less of an asshole and more of a kind, humble human being who people like and respect, is to adopt a Nothing-is-Certain mindset.

I used to care so much about being “right” during disagreements with my wife, that I:

A. Never challenged my own sometimes-incorrect beliefs in pursuit of truth.

B. Exercised WORSE behavior morally by being an asshole than she ever did innocently watching television, and…

C. Ultimately destroyed the very thing I was attempting to “improve.”

All because I “knew best.”

All because I was “right.”

All because of certainty.

The reason this humbling journey of self-discovery has been so freeing is because I no longer have to be a slave to “being right.”

Every disagreement is either an opportunity for me to share my beliefs with others, or an opportunity to correct one of my false beliefs and stop being wrong about something.

I “win” no matter what. And God-willing, am less of an asshole in the process.

What You Should Do Next

Author Mark Manson, one of my favorite writers, said it best when he wrote that “the only certainty is that nothing is certain.”

“This is the only ‘safe’ Super Belief as it limits your ability to force your certainty onto others, while simultaneously always leaving you open to new and improved ideas. It keeps you open to new experiences and capable of coping with whatever pain may arise in a realistic and safe way. It also just makes you less of an asshole,” he wrote. 

Advance your noble quest to reduce your Asshole Quotient and improve your relationships by reading these two awesome and thought-provoking pieces from Mr. Manson:

The Virtue of Doubt

Why You Can’t Trust Yourself 

I’d like to tell you I’m certain you’ll like them, but I suppose I don’t know.

And that’s okay. Not knowing things is so much better than I ever imagined.

127 thoughts on “How to be Less of an Asshole in Life and Relationships”

  1. LOL! Great post, Matt. I so need this advice for on the internet and sometimes in political discussions on the ground. Don’t be an A-hole and let go of needing to be right.

    In marriage I think I’ve got this thing, but not in other areas of life. In marriage I figured out I could win or I could just let him win. Either way I win. If I let him win then I’m married to a winner, so it’s all good. Who doesn’t want to be married to a winner? You can’t go wrong there. 🙂

  2. Two things:
    1. Since the airing of 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, the incidence of teenage pregnancy has dropped by a significant margin. Whether or not you can prove causality is unknown; however, it’s a hopeful statistic.
    2. Research shows that intelligent adult-aged women watch shows that you may find morally reprehensible – such as the Bachelor, Real World, etc. This is because it is not nice to make fun of people to their face; however, when people put themselves on shows like this, there’s a mental forgiving for engaging in making fun of those people. It’s like a release for built-up mocking, as well as a way to feel better about ones own life by watching the train-wrecks that go on those shows…
    So, the fact your wife watched those shows as an adult is likely a sign of her emotional maturity and intelligence!
    Totally not the point of your post, I know, but I’ll jump at anything to be able to spout off the useless research bouncing around in my brain!!

    1. Interesting! I used to watch “Hoarders” secretly because I knew my husband had some moral distaste for this kind of stuff, feeling that it exploits those who are already suffering.

    2. Good stuff as usual. And this time I see myself in the lens on this one — not just my ex husband or boyfriend. I see how I do this with my teenage daughter too. Thanks again for helping me keep doing my work.

  3. Exellent! (Meaning, I believe this too, so obviously it must be a profound insight.)

    I’m wondering though, how you justified to yourself at the time that watching the sophmoric shows, South Park etc, were somehow better/different than your wife watching 16 and pregnant? It would be easier for me to understand if you were against “stupid” TV-shows all together, but since you were having your own fun in the very same area, how did all that add up for you at the time?

  4. Nice. We all need this type of lesson sometimes. And we need to reflect on our past mistakes to figure out why, what set it off, what can be different in future, etc. etc. I know for myself there’s sometimes been a giant tangle of stuff to sort through to figure out why and how I was such a jerk on certain specific occasions! But I will say that just becoming spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and even physically healthier has helped a lot. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You don’t always know what’s pulling and what’s pushing so it’s wisest to work on all front when you feel like a train wreck. (In case there are any other train wrecks in recovery in InternetLand today. lol)

  5. This was one of the greatest sins I committed not only in my marriage, but in every relationship I’d been in prior. Though sometimes it might have involved a TV show, movie or book in which my wife took interest, the vast majority of the time, it involved her taste in music. For me, it was driven by two factors–one, I have very strong likes and dislikes. I’ve always carried a large measure of disdain for the kind of people who say, “I like pretty much everything!” or, when pressed to pick a favorite artist/album/song, can’t decide. I have a very pronounced and visceral reaction to music, books, TV and film, and I definitely know what I like and am prepared to defend it as vehemently as though my tastes are inextricably intertwined with my honor. I suppose, in a very real sense, I feel defined by my likes and dislikes. So it is exceedingly difficult for me to quietly let it go when someone loves something I hate, or vice versa. I feel energized by the process of “proving” why my tastes are preferable.

    Secondly, if I didn’t like one of my wife’s songs, very selfishly, I simply didn’t want to have to suffer through listening to it. Since it always seemed like I was more passionate in my tastes than she was, I figured it made sense that I should get to determine the playlist, since it “hurt” me more to hear her “shitty” music than it hurt her to hear something of mine she didn’t care for. Now ain’t that some sad shit? It took way too long for me to see the damage I was doing to my wife’s esteem, and when I finally realized it, it made me feel sick and disgusted with myself because it meant getting what I wanted meant more to me than letting my wife have a moment of peace and joy. It also meant I was more interested in pissing all over my wife’s personal fire hydrant to mark my superiority than in learning about her tastes and background and thought process.

    Since then, I have made a concentrated effort to squash this tendency in myself, making sure that, as I cycle through radio stations in the car when my wife is with me, if I come across a song she likes, leaving it there and not saying a single crappy thing about it, or conveying any kind of judgmental expression on my face. I can’t honestly say it’s gotten easy for me over time (I’m still me and I’m still a man of strong opinions and convictions), but I do it because my wife matters to me so much more than a song she likes doesn’t. Like a recovering alcoholic, perhaps I’ll spend my whole life fighting this urge to be a condescending, know-it-all asshole, but the past many months have proven to me that I AM capable of doing so.

    1. That’s awesome that you’re working on it, Travis. And here I was just thinking that tv and music are difficult areas for this because it can be terrible sometimes to have to sit through something you’re having a bad reaction too, viscerally. I think I’ve done this to my kids over music even if not as much from a feeling of superiority as just not being able to listen to certain stuff after a while!

    2. So now I’m sitting here curious like a doomed cat about what music you like, Travis. IB announced hers.

      I’m chicken cause you already said its a pet peeve people who like everything and I do listen to a fairly large range of stuff…hence my visceral reaction to my teens getting stuck on a bunch of songs that all sound too much alike to me. Seriously don’t Sleeping With Sirens and Pierce the Veil ever sound like the same band to anyone else?

      Sometimes I’m flexible but sometimes I’m really in the mood for only a very specific sound.

      1. Of course, Lindsey, it’s always all good (though, as you well know, you’re way off target, LOL).


        My tastes run pretty exclusively to rock-and-roll (well, and orchestral film soundtracks, but I know I’m in a weird and minority cult on that one), but I love all decades of it (less so the ’70s, which were defined by milquetoast folk rock and disco, leaving only the rare Led Zeppelins, Billy Joels, Elton Johns, and the punk movement to make the music of the time listenable, and the offerings of today, with only occasional outliers like Kings of Leon and Green Day even doing true rock anymore). In this, my wife and I actually share a great deal of commonality. Oh, we have our variances–I have a much deeper love of ’80s music (hair metal strongly excepted) than she does (though she’s coming along), and she tolerates a wider range of ’90s rock than I do (I love a lot of music from that decade but, for me, it was also defined by a lot of potentially decent bands fronted by shitty vocalists, like Live, Creed, Soundgarden, Foo Fighters and Red Hot Chili Peppers), but by and large, if we’re both in a rock mood, friction between us is relatively minimal (and we both utterly despise country, which also helps keep the peace).

        The problem is that she also gravitates to genres I find to be painfully unlistenable, such as female power vocalists (e.g. Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Kelly Clarkson, Adele, etc.), which, like watching athletes, I objectively recognize as talented but subjectively could not find any less interesting, late ’90s pop (e.g. Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, N’Sync, Backstreet Boys, all of which I consider to be the agonizing nadir of popular music), and a genre I think of as “urban” but some others call “modern R&B”, with crossover into modern rap (e.g. Drake, Nelly, Beyoncé/Destiny’s Child, Jay-Z, Usher, about 80% of Top 40 radio today), when my interest in R&B ended after Prince, and my interest in rap ended after Public Enemy. When she starts playing any of that stuff, it’s like sonic nails on a chalkboard to me. There’s not a single element of those genres that appeals or “speaks” to me, and I doubt that will ever change (we just like what we like, right?), but now I’m trying constantly and consistently to move past that knee-jerk amygdala revulsion and focus on why and how that music speaks to my wife instead of how little it does to me. Again, not easy, but I recognize that, if my tastes help define who I am as a person, then to insult and marginalize her tastes in music actually insults and marginalizes a key part of her identity. Ultimately, if I don’t love my wife more than I hate Mariah Carey, Justin Timberlake and Drake, then I have no business as her life’s mate.

      2. Well it sounds like there’s nothing you listen to that I couldn’t get along with. Strangely even with all the stuff I listen to, the belt-it-out chicks like Mariah Carey I can rarely tolerate at all. Luckily for me no one in my family likes them so they all feel fine with it is if we hear it somewhere in public and it gets on my nerves after a short time. I just call it wailing or hollering rather than singing. But I am nice about it with friends who like them. 😉

    3. To the warrior/poet,

      “Discipline is simply remembering what you want.” and perhaps who you are at the moment!

    4. I commend you for your self reflection on this Travis, and for your effort to truly be considerate and respectful towards your wife.

      My friend and I used to call some folks the ipod police. During parties etc they’d just go through people’s ipods without asking, checking to see if there was something “wrong” there. And then commenting on it, mocking people. Anyway, the ipod police, though quite concerned with edginess ad originality, all pretty much listened to the same things. :p It was pretty f*cking annoying.

      Another friend of mine went to a high school who focused heavily on musc. There only jazz and classical were deemed appropriate. The taste police obviously don’t stick to the same rules. 8)

      For a good while I saw a guy who had absolutely no clue about music. I have very little clue, but he had even less. Which meant no nasty comments and no ipod policing. And no non stop playing of music for hours which I personally don’t like, because I find it tiring and usually prefer silence. It was great. 🙂

      When it comes to music I’m one of the folks that annoy you Travis, as I really do like to listen to different things. I could not pick out a favourite album, and honestly I know very little about music. Though I can play an instrument and read notes, so that should perhaps count for something. 🙂

      It seems like you’ve got (or at least had) the kind of approach that annoys me though. :p I don’t mind people feeling strongly about stuff, even disliking what I like, but it irritates me when they somehow feel that their taste is the right one and have the need to mock me or what I like. Just live and let live, I say. Or at least, save your mocking for people who want to mock you back and like that kind of interaction.

      And I’ll just add that a friend of mine is a classically trained soprano. And she loves her Beyonce. 8)

      1. I hear ya, Donkey. It may help to understand that my personal psychology/emotional make-up is to live and feel things passionately. In virtually all things, I am very polarized–I love fiercely and I hate fiercely. There is very little middle ground in my tastes and sensibilities. My personal mantra has always been “life is too short not to have strong opinions!” Such a mindset, interestingly enough, means I tend to cause very polarized opinions in those who meet me. They either love or hate me. It’s a rare person who knows me who, when asked their opinion of me, simply shrugs and says, “Yeah, he’s all right, I guess.”

        I have a lot of passion around the music I hold dear. It really matters to me. I collect CDs frequently and I regularly read up on bands and singers I enjoy. It’s an area of my life where I put a lot of focus, so people who tend to view music as just a commodity or as something in the background to set a mood, rather than a fine and essential art, do tend to rub me the wrong way. Doesn’t make me right and you wrong, however. I’m sure my ennui and apathy regarding sports makes sports fans want to pull their hair out. But do take note of sports fans and how they take such competitive delight in taking the piss out of one another over their choice of team favorites. I suspect the same sort of good-natured yet fierce one-upsmanship lies at the heart of us iPod policemen’s annoying behavior. What I’m having to learn now is the wisdom of recognizing your audience’s openness to that kind of pissing contest.

    5. Bless you. Like Matt, you give me hope the more men are going to be able to “get” this. My ex-husband never could and likely never will. I try not to villainize him for it so much as I once did. We can’t see what we can’t see — and sometimes hard as it is to admit it, the person with the skewed vision is/was me. But willingness to see it differently is the magical elixir that heals relationships and the world.

  6. Don’t see a problem. If your spouse is watching something on the tube you’re not a fan of, either watch on another set or do something else. That’s what I do if the wife is watching Love Boat or Hart to Hart or Parenthood or anything on Lifetime.

    1. Jeff Strand said, “Don’t see a problem. If your spouse is watching something on the tube you’re not a fan of, either watch on another set or do something else.”

      The problem with that is that I nearly always prefer doing things with my wife’s company than without. Problem was, it always had to be under my conditions or she’d have to hear about it. Shame on me. She never once judged my tastes, so what made someone who loves her more than life itself feel he needed to judge hers incessantly?

      1. Not to mention “doing your own thing” is not a viable option when you’re both listening to the same car stereo.

      2. “She never once judged my tastes, so what made someone who loves her more than life itself feel he needed to judge hers incessantly?”

        Well dang, Travis, you win the comment award! That’s really lovely.

        My hubby likes country music, I Iike rock and roll. Generally we listen to what he likes and we watch what he wants on TV. Here’s the deal though, anyone else can change the station, including the kids. That judgment of my choices is reserved for his wife exclusively. It is totally about power and control, one upmanship. It’s really typical of men too, they are often trying to assert their perceived superiority.

  7. Travis,

    I read this little gem many, many years ago in a book whose title I have forgotten,

    “Discipline is simply remembering what you want.”

    When you are tempted to trespass–REMEMBER!

    1. Oooh, good one! Glad to see you again Marilyn, thanks for the earlier shout out! 🙂

  8. Thank you for another insightful post. I was convicted within the first 2 sentences, and promptly apologized to my husband. I am an English major with “particular” tastes in literature, and this has been a matter of contention for the past 14 years!

  9. I think we all have a little bit of snobbery in us in some areas. And while it can seem a little paternalistic to be concerned about what sort of trash TV she was feeding herself, it’s also a little bit chivalrous and noble. …a little bit.
    The question I wonder is if it were about concern for her, or if it just didn’t match with the perception you had of yourself.
    I think that is where a lot of our snobbery lies.
    We pride ourselves on being this type of person or that type of person. That’s all fine and good, but I think at some point, like you Matt- we care less about being seen as intelligent and discriminating, and more about truly being understanding.
    I’m still trying to get there!

  10. This is excellent advise! I think a lot of people don’t even realize they are being “hostile”, they literally just blurt out things without considering the other person’s feelings. I try to make it a point not to do this, but occasionally, I’ll slip up.

  11. Lisa, Donkey, Mom, Travis- I’d love your input!
    Can I be selfish, and stretch this conversation to other relationships?, and maybe take a few steps back and talk about boundaries, and differentiation -with an ailing parent? These things apply in all relationships.
    I say she’s ailing, because she has smoked as long as I have lived, and has had health issues in the past. There is nothing currently going on that I know about, but I honestly don’t believe my mother is going to be alive in 10 years. I will freak out slightly if she is because that will mean she has some damn good genes and I better plan on a lot longer retirement. …Lol, Does that sound bad?
    Anyway- urrgggg….it has not been a good week. (Last week really- spilling over into this week..)
    The attempts I am making to set boundaries and differentiate from my mom are just something else for her to take offense to and fight about.
    We haven’t been close for so, so long. She moved back to our home state about 3 years ago and we’ve had this cordial, not very interesting, relationship. But she’s my mom, so- you know, I am going to try.
    I was strongly considering moving closer to her when I graduate, but after this week it would mean moving back and accepting a very broken relationship that will likely never be any different. But I’d be hanging in, just for the sake of being present and loving her until she passes.
    It would be so much easier if she were on her death bed!
    The truth is, she never considered me much my entire life. She’s had the opportunity to live in New York, and in Colorado, and on the beach in Louisiana.
    I may have some really great opportunities to go work anywhere in the country, but I haven’t really spent a lot of time considering them, because I want to do the right thing with my mom.
    But, heck- if I did just forget her, I could go to California, North Carolina, – wherever in my 40’s, vs. my 50’s. I already know I am not going to do that, I would regret that, I think.
    But, sheesh- is it even worth trying to set boundaries with someone who isn’t really going to change?
    It seems like it would be easier to know my limitations, and set boundaries with myself- like when I end conversations and walk away, ect.

    Sorry if this is a bit personal, but it does fall in line with our usually topics of convo.
    I’m looking for Bowen and Schnarch books at the library. No such luck yet (our libraries kind of suck…) And I’m broke for the next week, so- no Amazon. com for me…May cruise to half priced books, though…
    Anyway- thoughts?

    1. Hey Lindsey!

      “But, sheesh- is it even worth trying to set boundaries with someone who isn’t really going to change?
      It seems like it would be easier to know my limitations, and set boundaries with myself- like when I end conversations and walk away, ect.”

      In a way, boundaries are always about our own behaviour. I don’t want person A to do X. I will ask them to please stop, and suggest Y instead. If however person A continues to do X, I must do Z to preserve my sanity/health/self respect/take care of my needs.

      But I may see what you mean. And for the record. I find it really annoying when I read similar things (that boundaries are about our own behaviour), because often we really do want someone else to change their behaviour, and maybe with good reason. But if they don’t, we must change our own in response.

      But again, I may see what you mean. Maybe you want your mother to admit that abc happened and apologize. Or maybe it’s about something present, you want her to stop criticizing the way you dress or whatever. I’m just throwing things out here, I have no idea what the deal is obviously.

      If a person is not cooperative in what you wish/need, that doesn’t necessarily mean you must cut ties completely. Like you say, you can know your own limitations, stop conversations when they start going downhill, and simply not see them as much as you would if you felt more respected/nourished by/relaxed in your interactions. That’s a boudnary too: “I feel so tired after spending time with this person, and they won’t do the things that would make it less tiring for me, so I will have to see them less often”. This doesn’t always have to be voiced out loud either. Maybe spending the night in the same place as your mother drives you bonkers, so you don’t do that if you can at all avoid it. Maybe you two always end up fighting if you discuss politics, so you don’t bring that up and if she does you say “mom, I’m not discussing politics, now do you want some tea, I’d love a cup myself” or you change the subject. Maybe you get along pretty well if you watch a show you both like, so you try to make more of your together time happen around that rather than around other things that often don’t go well.

      I do similar things with some people in my life. Knowing from experience that some conversations simply won’t go well, I don’t bring up those subjects. If they start talking about something I feel pretty certain won’t go well if we were to have an honest conversaton about it, I reply in an evasive manner or change the subject. That does mean the relationship and interactions are more superficial, and that I don’t see them very often/for much time in one go. But maybe that’s ok sometimes.
      This is not to say that my way is the right way. Boundaries is an area I haven’t mastered yet myself. 🙂 Some people will prefer to be more direct about everything and let the chips fall where they may.

      And I think there’s a grieving process involved in learning to accept the way things are, grieving for the relationship with the person we’d wish for but don’t have. As always, I recommend dealing with (which often just means getting in touch with and feeling) with whatever emotions get triggered. Now, this isn’t something I’ve done perfectly in my life, and I don’t think it’s an either/or thing. Growing and healing and accepting is a lifelong thing.

      I’m sorry, this felt kind of speechy, but I don’t feel like spending the energy trying to make it less speechy. :p Sorry if it sounded condescending/paternalistic in any way, I don’t want that.

      Anyway, did I give you the kind of input you were looking for? Let me know if I missed the mark, and I’ll see what I can do. 🙂

      1. Hey Donkey,
        Not speechy, and not really sure what I was looking for.
        Just looking at accepting a relationship with someone that may not be able to respect boundaries, without being a door mat.

        In marriage it’s easy to say “no more”, and honestly in other relationships it may be the same. But I know, for whatever reason, I would regret not having a relationship with her before she died- so I get to practice being me, and even giving of myself no matter what she does.
        So, yeah- you’re right, boundaries are about me setting mine.

      2. I’m not sure I can add much to what Donkey said, except that she hit pretty accurately on how I had to deal with my dad over the adult years of my life which actually led to us not seeing each other or speaking to each other often. When we did, it was almost always from me initiating contact. I can remember once when he did, maybe twice actually, over the last 20 years. And because of my health problems and my stressful marriage and life circumstances, etc etc I didn’t often have the energy to deal with him. It was kind of a shame in a way but also fairly natural and nearly normal to me. There was nothing I could do to help him. He is who he is. He’s chosen to get bogged down and never get out from under digging his heals in on his mistakes and faults. It’s been a couple of years now that he “hasn’t been speaking to me” because I didn’t contact him enough and he felt insulted. It was just before Christmas he wouldn’t answer the phone for a few days and then had his poor crapped on wife call me and tell me why. But it just is what it is. I don’t feel the need (or more importantly the ability) to fix it for him. And during those two years I’ve been dealing with my husband and finally realizing he’s, in some ways, the same insecure, prideful, unable to receive love or respect, emotional unavailable abuser my dad is. I actually had a horrifying dream after my husband left of a certain type of abusiveness from my husband except it was my dad…worst nightmare EVER.

        I don’t want the job of punishing either of them. And I don’t want to continue to put myself in the path of abuse. So I’m kind of left with the kind of boundaries where I move on in life and let them be who they are which happens to include being people who don’t like me but would be happy to use me sometimes on their own terms if I’m good enough at pretending to be who they have decided I should be, wanting what they want me to want, liking what they want me to like, and needing what they want me to need, AND agreeing to allow them to perpetually misunderstand me, malign me, unjustly accuse me, etc etc.

        I realize the parts I’ve shared won’t really match your problems with your mom. But I’m guessing if we could talk on the phone for a thousand hours or so we’d feel like there were about a million similarities. Difficult people are difficult people. They are hurt/damaged/hurting. And they always hurt other people.

        Hugs across the internet*

        1. FSM,
          Thank you for sharing that.
          I guess I’m just still hoping for a happy ending? I don’t know.
          “if I’m good enough at pretending to be who they have decided I should be, wanting what they want me to want, liking what they want me to like, and needing what they want me to need, AND agreeing to allow them to perpetually misunderstand me, malign me, unjustly accuse me, etc etc.”,
          This actually sounds very familiar.
          She’s not like a wicked step mother or anything, it’s just how she functions In relationships.
          She also has a long family history of passive aggressive behaviors, and the silent treatment if you did something wrong (even if you don’t know what). And if you ever need anything, she will absolutely hold it over your head – that’s been the case forever. It’s like looking at something I may have needed she doesn’t think/ “o great I can help my daughter reach her goals”,it is absolutely a power thing for her. It’s always about her.
          I am not so emotionally enmeshed with her that it really upsets me, as much as it could. She’s not a safe place. That’s it in a nutshell. But I don’t feel so emotionally beat up as to not be there.
          Give me a few years- that may totally change. :). I’m thinking that if I just don’t expect a close relationship and I know she isn’t a safe to open up in, I just won’t. So literally, it will still be about her..

    2. @Lindsey ((hugs))

      I have the best kind of relationship with my mom, I’m truly blessed, but I have a difficult relationship with my daughter. She has some mental health issues and when she is symptomatic, she is an emotional terrorist. I KNOW what she will to do me if I enforce a boundary; she will make me pay. If I continue to enforce; she will up the ante. I try hard, but I still get sucked into her vortex a LOT – the dynamic between us goes back for years and it is so easy to fall back into it under stress.

      But she is my daughter. *shrugs*

      Maybe I’m chasing after the wind, but I’ll never stop trying.

      So I get that, that longing to heal the relationship, no matter how unlikely or unrealistic that may be.

      I like to think that, no matter the eventual outcome, loving my hard-to-love daughter is a worthy purpose in and of itself. There are lessons for me in there.

        1. Anitavan,
          Indeed! Hugs for you, too!
          Thanks. Those are some wise words.

          Remember the Anyway poem?
          People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
          Love them anyway
          If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
          Be kind anyway
          If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
          Succeed anyway
          If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you,
          Be honest and frank anyway
          What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight,
          Build anyway
          If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
          Be happy anyway
          The good you do today, people will often forget about tomorrow,
          Do good anyway;
          People really need help, but may attack you if you do help them,
          Help people anyway,
          Give the world the best you have, and you’ll get kicked in the teeth;
          Give the world the best you’ve got, anyway.
          You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
          It was never between you and them, anyway.
          ~Originally written by Kent Keith, scribed onto Mother Teresa’s children home in Calcutta~

    3. Lindsey,

      You’ve already gotten some great advice so let me just act a couple of practical exercises to help you sort your thoughts. This is the kind of thing that helps me “intellectualize” my emotions to understand my options more clearly. Maybe it will help you. If not just, hey it’s free advice. 😉

      1. Get separate pieces of paper. On on page titled “what I would like to do”. Put down what you would like to do and where you would like to live 100% thinking of ONLY your needs. Pretend you have no responsibilities or family to worry about. Maybe that’s move to California buy a convertible and go to the beach everyday. Whatever you dream of.

      2. On another piece of paper titled “what I would do to take care if my ailing mother if we had a close, healthy relationship” put what you think you and/or other reasonable people would do in that situation.

      Maybe it’s moving to the same city and visiting regularly. Maybe it’s living elsewhere but calling and visiting often. Maybe it’s moving her into your house.

      3. On another piece of paper titled “what I would do with a relationship with an undifferentiated mother” put things you imagine another person would consider reasonable under those non-mutual circumstances.

      It will probably be somewhere in between the things on options 1 and 2. Maybe it’s visit regularly but not as often as option 2, maybe it’s making sure her medical needs are taken care of but not necessarily living in the same city. Lots of different approaches.

      The point of this exercise is to make sure you can recognize there are MANY options to love sad honor your mother. If you ask 100 people, there would be many different answers.

      I think it is awesome that you want to show love to your mother despite your painful childhood and her inability now to change to have a more heathy relationship.

      My free advice is to make sure you prioritize YOUR needs, she will not do it. And you are likely to lean towards her needs and happiness and not focus enough on your own.

      You can love and the care of your mother in ways that make your needs and happiness matter the most. As a person who tends to not focus enough on your needs, it takes work and effort to counterbalance the tendency because of your neglectful childhood to not value yourself and your needs enough. To feel guilty for not taking care of your mother in the best way possible. And to possibly be criticized for not giving enough despite sacrificing many of your own needs.

      But we are not required to give everything we CAN give, but to figure out what is HEALTHY to give considering all the circumstances.

      If it was someone leaning towards selfishness the advice would be the opposite.

      I don’t know if any of that is helpful but it’s the kind of thought process I have to use with my own friggin family so I thought I’d throw it out there.

      1. Also in this exercise you want brainstorm as many possible options as you can on each piece of paper. At least 10 for each. You have a LOT of possible options. There isn’t one perfect answer.

        And you can change your mind if the one you eventfully choose isn’t working out. Or do one thing for a while and then switch to another option.

      2. Wow, Lisa-
        No, that is helpful.
        I’m not going to deny that making plans to do what I want is a very foreign concept.
        But let me ask you this- would actions towards alleviating guilt count as being healthy or not healthy?
        I’m not being completely selfless- I am trying to spare myself the guilt and regret of not being there at the end of her life. I know there is no hope of actual relationship.
        But, if I left I don’t know that she would tell me if/when she got sick. In fact I don’t think she would.
        But, yes- I really like your idea.
        It is now on my to-do list.
        Thank you!!

      3. Lindsey,

        You said:

        “But let me ask you this- would actions towards alleviating guilt count as being healthy or not healthy?
        I’m not being completely selfless- I am trying to spare myself the guilt and regret of not being there at the end of her life. I know there is no hope of actual relationship.”

        Ok good question. This is where I would do more exercises around guilt.

        What do you feel guilty about? Why do you think you feel guilty? Is it triggered externally by things your mother or others say/think or internally by your own thoughts?

        Would 100 reasonable people agree that they would feel guilty about the same things you do? If not, why are they different?

        As you know based on our previous convos I think guilt and shame can be helpful emotions. But they need to be questioned most especially by people who had dysfunctional childhoods and were made to feel guilty or invalid for expressing their own opinions or asking for their own needs.

        Narcissistic leaning people IMHO need to lean into guilt/shame to get to a more empathetic place. Codependent leaning people need to lean away from it.

        I try to do a lot of these exercises to make it a conscious positive choice of values if I do something that I know will be unequal. It’s for myself because that’s what I think I should do to honor my own values not to alleviate guilt.

        I also sometimes choose to do something that prioritizes my needs. I wish I had a different relationship that would naturally have me choose to live closer/be more involved but the reality of the relationship needs to be recognized.

        We do NOT have those kind if relationships no matter how much we wish it was so. And there are consequences to the choices others make.

        You must make decisions to protect yourself and to show love for yourself while still doing reasonable things to show love to undifferentiated people who cannot or will not choose to be in a truly intimate healthy relationship.

        Anyway I feel for you it sucks. I hope you find a way to show love to your mother without the next 10 years or more being about your mother’s needs.

        1. Lisa,
          Sorry for the slow response. Believe it or not, I’ve just kind of been soaking in what you were saying…
          “honor my own values not to alleviate guilt”= nail on the head.
          That’s the making decisions via logic vs emotions thing, eh? I’m pretty astute over here.. :), just kidding.
          I think that (quoted above) is central to everything.
          (If I haven’t said Thank you 1000 times already, I bet this would do it- Thank you!).

          1. Lindsey, I’m glad it was helpful! Hey I’m working on this stuff too so relate to your struggle to make sense of it all.

            For me, if I do these types of thinking exercises to make conscious choices it reduces significantly the amount of resentment I feel in an unequal relationship or situation.Or being criticized even while sacrificing to help.

            That’s why I read all those books. To figure out what “normal” looks like. Then I can recognize what is normal and what is not. If I can start there with a correct diagnosis that helps me get out of the gaslighting.

            I gaslight myself a lot. I “should” be this, do that. If I only were are able to manipulate and control this situation, I could finally get this person to show he the love I long for.

            But it’s not real. Or healthy. I have to see and accept the person or situation as they are. And there’s a lot of grief in that. The longing for a better relationship never goes away. Even after I see it for what it is. It is always there as an ache over a loss. It’s like a death.

            It’s the kind of thing I feel when I think about people who have died. Years ago. Not as raw a grief but it still lives there. The longing for the love we should have had.

            So that’s the challenge for me and you. See the situation for what it is, feel the grief, figure out what “normal healthy” people would do in similar circumstances. Counterbalancing the tendency to make it about the other person as we’ve been trained to do with thinking about our needs.

            Grieving that the other person will not think about our needs. And that I have to do it by myself yet again.

            Fostering love by trying to understand why the other person cannot/will not treat you “normally”. It is never accepts me but it helps me if I can make it understandable.

            And then choosing to show love. For myself first because this is so painful. But for them too. Because they are weak emotionally like children and we are strong. Even though it doesn’t feel like that at all.

            But the fact they you want to show love, work hard to show love, even when they can’t or won’t makes you the strong one.

            But I have to figure out how to give myself the love they don’t. So that’s why I make it about my own values, how I can choose to love them while protecting myself.

            If I don’t do all these exercises in my head, I am an angry, resentful, depressed soul. It’s really to show love to me.

            And we both deserve love even if we got stuck with some people who can’t give it to us in the ways we need.

      4. “And there are consequences to the choices others make.”

        “But we are not required to give everything we CAN give, but to figure out what is HEALTHY to give considering all the circumstances”

        Yes! Good stuff!

  12. What I find puzzling in these conversations is the seemingly universal agreement that tastes in music are truly significant to a person’s identity.

    I always thought that, like tastes or preferences in fine art , choices were not to be criticized as wrong because the whole genre is totally subjective. My mother once told me that olives and asparagras were “acquired” tastes. I did not know what she meant until sometime north of my 30th birthday in the midst of a cocktail party and feeling hungry I realized I actually liked both. I have friends who do not particularly like chocolate. To me that is inconceivable — but not unforgivable. I would not judge them as “inferior”
    for the choice their palate makes. Over the years, my taste in literature has also changed/expanded/evolved, yet I don’t think I will ever appreciate or willingly listen to the music of Lawrence Welk.

    I realize I may be missing something here.

    1. marilyn sims said,

      “What I find puzzling in these conversations is the seemingly universal agreement that tastes in music are truly significant to a person’s identity.”

      It is the very subjectivity you speak of that reinforces my assertion that our tastes, whether in art, food, sexuality, etc. define our identity. They’re what makes us “us” instead of someone else. U2 has provided the soundtrack to my life. Stephen King taught me a love of language. Steven Spielberg was the catalyst for my (unfulfilled) dream to be a filmmaker. STAR TREK cemented many of my personal life philosophies. And just like a Yankees fan can cast aspersions on a Red Sox fan, or fanboys can battle over whether STAR WARS is superior to STAR TREK, the merit of subjective tastes in music can be debated. It’s arguably immature and assholish (after all, it basically amounts to an argument that your choices are superior to another’s), but I would argue that it’s an acceptable line of debate (if not, nobody told millions of sports fans across the globe)…WITH THE RIGHT, EQUALLY PARTICIPATORY PARTY. That was my failing with my wife–assuming she wanted or deserved my “shitting on your tastes” opinions without solicitation or moderation.

      1. “And just like a Yankees fan can cast aspersions on a Red Sox fan, or fanboys can battle over whether STAR WARS is superior to STAR TREK, the merit of subjective tastes in music can be debated. It’s arguably immature and assholish (after all, it basically amounts to an argument that your choices are superior to another’s), but I would argue that it’s an acceptable line of debate (if not, nobody told millions of sports fans across the globe)…WITH THE RIGHT, EQUALLY PARTICIPATORY PARTY. That was my failing with my wife–assuming she wanted or deserved my “shitting on your tastes” opinions without solicitation or moderation.”

        Yes! If people really like the back and forth of”shitting on your taste” thing then by all means, have at it in merry company, I think that’s perfectly fine. Just don’t assume other people like it, that there’s something wrong with them for not liking it, and especially don’t continue when people have said they don’t like it (I’m not talking to you now Travis, just preaching in general :)). Just like people who like to wrestle are welcome to join a team or engage in some rough and tumble with a friend they know like it too, but they shouldn’t just start pushing folks around, assuming that other people enjoy that too, or that they should enjoy it, as if that makes not respecting other people’s “no” ok. At the very least, they must stop when other folks express their unhappiness about it.

      2. Travis,
        In the same way that most women don’t like to be teased about thier tastes, and that is a way men communicate with each other- men don’t like women to communicate with them like they are their girlfriends.
        That makes me think of the question I asked earlier- do men get anything out of the relating part of the relationship?
        It seems like taking an interest in HER is the hiccup. Spending time with her, ect.
        and a second question- how are good ways to communicate with yall?
        What WOULD yall like to talk about, or how are ways your wife makes you feel connected (apart from adult activities…) ?

      3. Lindsey, you’ll have to give me more clarity on what you mean by “not taking an interest in her”. I will say that, when you mention men not liking when women speak to them like their girlfriends, I’m not sure that’s entirely fair or accurate. When I mentioned women not liking men treating them like their male buddies, I mean it in the sense (and I fully realize I’m speaking in gross generalities here that, nevertheless, ring true to me overall via anecdotal evidence) that male friendships tend to involve trash talking to each others’ faces, then building them up behind their backs (“You know I’d take a bullet for that Steven; he’s one of the good ones!”), whereas female ones tend to involve building each other up in front of their faces, then talking trash about them behind their backs (“Bless her heart, you know I love her like a sister, but maybe she could get a good man if she’d quitting sleeping with the first one to pay her any mind!”).

        I don’t think a good man would balk at being treated like his wife’s friend in many contexts. Admittedly, he probably has very little interest in, or context for, talking about handbags and heels, anymore than she does engine horsepower and RBIs. And he, due to awful gender norms and man card issues, may be woefully uncomfortable with, and inexperienced at, talking about emotional issues in any depth. But if a man truly loves his woman, of course he’s interested in her. Using myself as an example, the fact that I can’t abide my wife’s interest in certain genres of music in no way can be accurately twisted to equate with not being interested in her. There is no end to the songs, films, shows, books, thoughts, dreams, hopes, tastes and opinions of hers that I’ve spoken at fascinated length with her about over the years. If a man truly doesn’t find his mate compelling and worthy of exploring beyond the physical (in other words, if she’s literally nothing but a sexual or home care resource for him), then there’s no love there and I can’t speak to that particular kind of male behavioral paradigm because I’ve never shared it.

        I also feel woefully inadequate to answering the question of what men would like to do and talk about with their women. In my own case, I push emotional discourse and disclosures in my marriage exponentially more often than my wife does, but that’s not the norm. I can only say that I’d expect the answer to that to vary for every male you might come across. I guess the insufferable truth is you just have to be lucky enough to find someone with whom you click–not necessarily someone who matches you in all ways (as I just mentioned, my wife and I approach emotionally rich conversations with different levels of eagerness and comfort) but someone who is willing to adapt to your style and “meet you halfway”. Speaking for myself, let me assure you there is NOTHING I’d rather do than spend time with my wife.

      4. Travis,
        I didn’t mean to sound like I was saying you in particular don’t pay attention to your wife. I was thinking about the examples Matt has given, and also just some instances that have been recounted here. So, I may have been assuming it may be a tendency of your own, and of most men, that while they can be in the same room, and say do child care things together, or talk about things that need to happen in the home, ect., the actual interest in who and how each other is doing, kind of wanes. I am convinced (maybe wrongfully), that is one of the issues that makes the marriage seem pointless, and not worth continuing for women.
        I agree that not having the same taste in music doesn’t equate to not being interested in your wife, what I was thinking was Matt’s example that he could have sat with her and asked her about her interest in the show (in effect, taking an interest in her) as opposed to just coming off judgmental, or whatever.
        About the generalities…I was actually going to mention in my first comment that Ive been known to talk trash to my guy friends, and some of my female friends, and that is fine as long as you know what you can joke about, and what you cant joke about.
        I do still think it is different when it is with your wife or significant other, because it is a different relationship.
        Despite what you wrote, and what several men writers have written, I don’t think women back bite as much as is thought. Women are actually very supportive of each other. If words are said after the conversation, yeah well- that could actually be a reflection of the woman’s need to please. ie- I cant tell her she is annoying me with this same old crap, so I will complain about her later. That mmmaaaayyyy happen, but I really try to associate, confide in people who will be straight with me.
        They would hopefully have enough faith in our relationship to speak up and say “Lindsey, you gripe about this all the time- when are you going to do something about it?” or something similar.
        But, anyway…what I mean about men not liking women to talk to them like their girlfriends, I am talking about more about the “feelings” part, than I am about fashion and clothes.
        It just seems like men take things at face value, and don’t ask questions about other “deeper” things- whether emotional or intellectual.
        While you may take an active interest in your wife, I think many men take them for granted. “They are here, they are still taking care of everything, so everything must be ok”, even if the wife is hurting and sore inside.
        I totally appreciate you- I am so glad there are men out there like you.
        I can only hope for a spouse who would actively nurture the relationship- …but, I’m not counting on that for my happiness, because I also think men like you are very rare.
        And, I am sure that 90% of that is your love for your wife in particular.
        It makes a difference, for sure.

        So your answer is the relating part of your relationship, IS the relationship-
        But, I don’t think that is the norm for others.

        As far as talking to guys, its not so much the content I wonder about, but the approach. At work, I really started to use sentences with the fewest amount of words, and the fewest amount of syllables, especially with men- because they stop listening after like 20 words.
        I was thinking about things like that. What are some ways to make it easier to communicate with you guys?

      5. Oh, I certainly didn’t mean to imply I felt implicated by your questions, Lindsey, just that, in many ways, I don’t feel like I think or behave like a “typical guy”, so I just wanted to indicate to you that I oftentimes don’t feel like I’m the best resource for questions about my overall gender (although when it comes to the art of unintentional assholery, I’m right there with the rest of them!) and may not be able to offer a perspective of much use to you. Won’t stop me from trying, but it may prove to be a round peg in a sea of square holes.

        In terms of how to speak to men, well, again, I love to chat it up, personally, though by how much is certainly variable by topic. If we’re talking work, I find the subject boring, a necessary evil, so usually I prefer “to the point” directives, but if we’re relating as people, talk talk away! But again, I’m probably the weird male in that respect. Let me dig a little deeper–what is the nature(s) of these conversations in which you notice men dialing out on you?

        1. Honestly, I don’t have any particular examples of being tuned out on, recently. Not saying it has never happened, but not recently. I was thinking more in general I get. But, like you’ve said that likely depends on the person receiving the message.
          But now I know who to ask if it does happen anytime soon 😉 .

      6. Hey Travis, that assessment is exactly why I believe that there is no “core” you, or me.

        The things at “define us” are largely learned. Music? I LOVE music and listen to a ton of stuff. But my tastes have evolved and changed over the years. Same with food, art, etc.

        Who am I? The person I am right now, a person who is continually evolving.

        I don’t really understand when people talk about losing themselves. You change, and sometimes the changes are really different from who you were before, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less you.

        The only thing I really see as “core” are the moral values that someone actually lives. It’s easy to “say” that people believe certain things, but if their actions don’t back up those beliefs then it’s all just talk.

        Just my two cents

        1. Travis said “It is the very subjectivity you speak of that reinforces my assertion that our tastes, …define our identity. They are what makes us, us.”
          Drew said “I believe that there is no “core” you, or me. The things that define us are largely learned…the only thing I really see as core are the moral values that some actually lives.”

          I have to say- I don’t think either summation is complete, and in some ways maybe not accurate.

          I do believe we are born with a relatively “clean slate” and if we have a fully functional brain, it could have the capacity to develop any number of ways.
          But, by the same token, there have been studies about twins who did not grow up in the same culture, but have eerily similar traits. That suggests to me that there may be some things we call personality traits that are in our DNA.
          I cant agree with Travis’ summation that our tastes define our identity. I hope to God I am more meaningful than that. I think tastes may be a reflection of our personalities, but no- I would still be me even if I were in a Russian soup kitchen line with a 3 crying babies and worn out clothes (Even though I would likely still love borscht: ). By saying that tastes are our identity, we are basically saying that we are ultimately a product of our culture. While I definitely believe that culture influences me, completely being a product of the culture couldn’t explain people like Steve Jobs, or The Beatles, or even Matt Fray…All of these people sort of stand out of the cultural norm and even lead the way. If we all swam in the same pertri dish, and that was it- we would all be the same.
          I also cant agree with Drew. I absolutely believe there is a core self. I’m not just being self-centered either (har, har)…seriously, though, I have specific memories of my early childhood, they are nothing profound, but I know them as “me” and “my” memories.
          Circumstances can influence a person, but they don’t make the person. What makes the person is a set of circumstances being introduced to a complex being and the reactions thereof. And, while different reactions can be learned, new understanding can be gained ect. I still believe there is a core person and identity there.
          You are talking a person who was diagnosed with having an unstable identity growing up- and it’s true that I wasn’t as comfortable with myself as my peers, and especially with my peers. I definitely still had a sense of “me” under all of it. Maybe my “self” is just my consciousness informed by a gazillion learned memories, but hey- it is still in directed internally, by me. I have self determination to chose how to direct my consciousness, what I will learn and in some ways what my the next million memories will be.

          That’s my dollar, fifty nine. 🙂

      7. I believe Drew and Lindsey may have misinterpreted my meaning, but my careless phrasing is solely to blame. I meant to say that our tastes are a PART of what defines us, not what solely defines us. They label us in a way. My occupation helps define me, but I am not only what I do. I am a husband and father, but there was a fully formed Travis in place before I took on either role. I am politically liberal, but I am not solely defined by my philosophy. I love and am in some ways shaped by certain songs/music artists, TV shows and films, but I am not summed up entirely by my tastes. I am defined by many criteria, and yes, the forms of art I am drawn to are a critical part of that, but not my totality.

      8. Travis,
        I just realized I did ask specifically WHAT you guys would like to talk about when relating to your women. I later said I was more interested in the approach. But, I think it is both that I am interested in.
        You already stated you felt woefully inadequate to answer that. But maybe others would?
        Besides kids, things with the house, ect. I think it is important to have some dialogue that engages each other. Sometimes that can be intellectual, but it can also be more personal and it could be that the more personal may be better for bonding.
        Just some thoughts.

    2. Marilyn,
      I’m with you- my tastes have grown, changed and expanded as I got older.
      For those in the middle of growing up, it may not be so much the music that people identify with, as much as the image or other associations along with it.
      However, I do think that people with strong opinions are thought to have stronger personalities. Sometimes that is true, sometimes its not. But, it can at least appear that way.
      While I have songs that have deep meaning for me, they are from several different genre’s, and at least 2 of them from a genre I wouldn’t typically chose to listen to.
      I think it’s true that the things we listen to, read, and watch help form our understanding of the world, and can affect our moods and even attitudes and beliefs- so if anything we become what we consume. That can make you a better person, but I don’t think it makes you an innately better person to consume certain materials. …If that makes sense.
      People may get some sense of identity about the choices they make in consuming materials.
      So, I think the latter may be how people derive their identity from “having discriminating tastes”…

      1. I also think men experience a constant struggle and uphill learning climb to truly come to terms with the fact that women typically don’t like to be communicated with in the same manner that men do “guy to guy” (I talk all manner of trash about my good friend Steven’s tastes in music, movies and TV, with the conviction it will just roll right off his back, and he’ll return the barbs in kind, but that same sort of conversation would work my wife up into a quick lather of either rage or tears, perhaps a mix). This can be exceedingly challenging for the husband who truly views his wife as his best friend. “You’re my very best friend, but I can’t talk to you like I would my best male friend. Does not compute. Error. Error.”

      2. Marilyn,
        Great! Yes, I think you got what I was trying to say. Although the last bit was clear as mud…
        What I was saying was that at some point, yes- what you choose to consume will absolutely reflect on who you are, there are people who don’t get that opportunity

      3. Marilyn,
        Great! Yes, I think you got what I was trying to say. Although the last bit was clear as mud…
        What I was saying was that at some point, yes- what you choose to consume will absolutely reflect on who you are, but there are people who don’t get the opportunity to know or learn about truly “nutritious” or excellent material to consume. Living in and growing up in areas that are surrounded by negative messages, that are repeated in music and whatever means of news/information that is accessible reinforces an outlook that can just be a negative cycle. It could even be shameful to learn and acquire materials that are foriegn to the culture.
        So, I don’t think having good tastes in music,books or TV is really a fair measure of a persons capabilities, or their worth.
        But certainly, in cultures where there is a lot of accessibility to various materials you can assume that person is making a choice to consume this or that.
        And, in all fairness- sometimes an hour or two of trash TV is relaxing and a good distraction every once in a while 🙂

  13. To lindso1 and Travis,

    Thanks for the clarifications – much appreciated Yet I found myself saying “Yes, …but” and I found that what I find challenging is I NEVER expected the subjective choices I made at age 16 to be the ones I kept into middle age — especially the ones I label as “emphemiral” as fashions in clothes and music. I ABSOLUTELY DO STILL LOVE SOME OF THE MUSIC FROM MY TEENS, yet it is at the edge of my consciousness — not central to it in any way.

    WAIT A MINUTE! Eureka! I’VE GOT IT! It’s what I’ve chosen to READ! That’s what defines me more than anything in my life. That’s what I “judge” people on more critically than anything else. I know that’s where one of the “fault-lines in my character shows up most frequently. Thanks guys, you’ve been witnesses to something important!

    1. Exactly! With Matt, it was his wife’s choice in television programming. With me, it was my wife’s choice in music. And for you, alas, it lies in people’s choices in literature.

    2. I think my deal may be some of the political/social beliefs that I hold dear. I think I used to be very forceful, probably contemptuous, self righteous a lot of the time when I discussed those with other people who disagreed with me. I think that’s why I’ve largely stopped doing that – I can’t do it in a respectful way (and I often feel hurt when people feel very differently than I do about some things, say, gender equality, respect for gays and lesbians etc).

      And the disrespect that I’ve been guilty of myself in various discussions many many times is mostly what gets me about people who shit on my tastes/beliefs etc. It’s usually not the “I don’t like this/agree with this” that I mind so much (especially when we’re talking about taste, interests etc). It’s the conveying of the message that:

      “I don’t like this/agree with this, obviously I must be right and you must be wrong. I can’t even conceive of the possibility that you could be as right as I am. So obviously you must be stupid/misinformed to think differently than I do”.

      That’s what got me about the ipod police, and that’s often what gets me about some of the shitty husband behaviour described on this blog.

      1. I’m cracking up over here, Donkey. I think you should send your iPod police to me. They would have apoplexy. My iPod includes songs from the Beatles to Rush to The Muppets, to Disney songs, YouTube artists my daughters like or previously liked, The Piano Guys, a song by The Partridge Family, lots of 80s, the soundtracks to Les Miserables and one of the Star Wars movies but I also love the soundtrack to Songcatcher and the soundtracks to several 80s teenager movies….I must have the weirdest mix on the planet, but most of the time I can’t bring myself to be too embarrassed about it. I’m pretty comfortable with my own brand of Crazy. Just send them over here. You’ll be rid of them forever. :p

      2. “For the words of the prophets were written on Matt Fray’s blog…concert hall!!!”

      3. I knew I like y’all for a reason! I have about 30 or so of their songs and wish I could buy quite a few more to make up for old CD’s that are no more. But I do have Spirit of Radio, Freewill, The Trees, Jacob’s Ladder…Ok…I could go on and on because I can never settle on a favorite. One of the friend’s of my 18yo is jealous of her because we actually listen to music and apparently his parents don’t but when I turned on Rush in the car one time he told me he didn’t have the attention span for them. LOL

      4. “I can feel no sense of measure
        No illusions as we take
        refuge in Matt Fray’s blogging
        Breaking down the dreams we make real…”

  14. linds01,

    You are SO, SO VERY RIGHT about what one consumes may be, in the final analysis, purely an accident of location and birth. I so often forget what an incredible blessing it was to be born and to grow to adulthood in Washington,D.C.

    I did not realize until I began to travel that there were towns without large libraries and places without zoos and museums and, at that time, BORDERS BOOKSTORES -ACCESSIBLE BY SUBWAY, BUS AND TAXICABS. And of course every type of restaurant imaginable, what a feast for the senses.


    1. I only know this because I have been very, very lucky to have lived in a very educated and education oriented area for the last 14-15 years. It really does change you (in a good way 🙂

    2. D.C.! Such a fabulous town to visit! I finally did the library of congress tour for the first time ever a summer or two ago. That was so great. Next thing up that I’ve never done despite being in and out of DC quite a lot over my lifetime, the national archives.

  15. This right here is the answer, spend some time appreciating your persons perspective even if it doesn’t make any sense and is beyond you, heck, I watch horror movies with friends and I loathe them, outside of a few sub genres. I still tried, I still watched with them, I still respected their taste.

    Also its typical for men to generally put down woman’s things, woman’s movies, woman’s shows, woman’s music, heck, music that was written to and aimed at young men gets mocked and insulted as “Drunk Moms” music, when, if anything, it’d written for and aimed at the 13-25 young men new to rock market (Nickelback, Hinder, Creed, 5SOS, Simple Plan, Linkin Park, there is more), you know the sort, horny, young, full of hormones and angsty as hell, young men, love it, its not drunk mother’s or teenaged girls fault these bands are successful, and even if it was, no reason to mock them.

    I remember times, when it comes to bigger issues, someone dismissed my perspective and it genuinely shattered our reconciliation, no need to understand it, but just ask. Just make time to understand.

    As a, teenager, I had zero perspective how my actions and thoughts affected others, and I genuinely didn’t notice or care how itd look, I loved considering my perspective right, even if it was mostly paranoid delusions, not accepting decent advice and needless rebellion. I also loved internet fights and trolling.

  16. Good God, do I ever enjoy reading your writing!!! It is ALWAYS insightful and jam packed with meaning and purpose, and I soak it all right up!!! Thank you. Your self-discovery helps others with their own self-discovery. Amazing work!

  17. This is interesting because I watch a few shows that I consider bad/soapy (I’m a bit of a hatewatcher) and I would actively shoo my ex from watching them with me because I didn’t want to hear about how dumb Reign or Grey’s was or whatever. Granted, he mostly holed himself up in his study anyway, but I wonder if there’s an opposite version where you close off some experiences you might have had together because you’re afraid of judgement.

  18. Hi Matt,

    lizholtzinger reminded me that a well-known “street rapper/philosopher” in D.C. once said, something to the effect that, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it,”

    I have been guilty of such bad manners and misconduct lately and would like to correct it now as best I can.

    I owe you many, many thanks for courageously opening up your life to the god-awful scrutiny of the internet so that hundreds, if not thousands of us would start on journeys of self-discovery. I of course include myself in that number. I believe your commitment to helping us involves “valor beyond the call of duty”. I would only add that I hope more of us would take a moment and send you a personal thank you.

    Please stay with us for as long as you can. Your gift to us is invaluable.

    1. Marilyn. That’s really nice of you, but wholly unnecessary. This is every bit as much for me, and my way of processing the world, and figuring out who I am and who I want to be, as it is for others.

      As a life-long fan of writing, I feel incredibly blessed every day because there are people out in the world who take time out of their lives to read things I write. Many, many, many writers (a ton of whom are more talented, wiser, funnier, and more deserving) dream of just having whatever audience/traffic/attention this place has.

      It is beyond humbling when I stop to consider it all.

      It is you who deserves my thanks. For caring enough to read and discuss. For coming back over and over again. And now, for pausing to send me a kind note.

      I pray you believe this: I am so thankful for you and the people who choose to give a bit of their lives and time to this place. And I am constantly a little bit ashamed by how disengaged and distant I’ve become from the blog as life keeps throwing obstacles in the way.

      Everyone deserves more of my time and attention and gratitude.

      This place means a lot to me. Thank you so much for being a part of it.

      1. Gottmanfan,
        There is a lot in what you wrote.
        I happened to see Brene Browns “boundaries” clip again. Maybe if I just plan on watching it everyday for the next 10 years, it will start to sink in :).
        I am really prone to mystical love theology (and it doesn’t help that I read Richard Rohr before reading here 🙂 , so what I am thinking may just sound like nebulous -vapor talk, but I really believe that stuff about God being Love and his desire for us to is love another.
        I really do want to be able to see others, and accept others exactly where they are. I really do want to be able to give them love and grace.
        I do know the problem comes in when I realize I am a person, too, and I need love as well. And if I just pour myself out in the hopes of recognition and/or a return on my love investment then I will likely end up felling shortchanged. (That resentment et al that you wrote about…I know it too well!!)
        I cant depend on getting that need met by others, especially when they show no interest in loving me back.
        So you’re right- its about me setting boundaries, it is loving and being in relationship with those who have the capacity to love me back, and it is relying on God to be my source of Love. Then I am better able to truly love others without, in some way, harming myself or expecting more of them than what they are willing/ able to give.
        I am not lying or exaggerating when I say that when I was “saved” I was overflowing with gratitude and feelings of love. It really was like a well inside of me that just spilled over- I felt what it was like to feel loved (I think I felt what it was like to be “in love”, even ) and I wanted to love others. It was like getting water from a rock. It was really lovely.

        In reality though, particularly with my mom, I do have to really ask myself why I am willing to commit myself to “being there” for her if it will harm me, or at least leave me empty, in the end.
        I am not 100% convinced it would be harmful or leave me empty. Maybe that is just my naïve hopefulness, I don’t know. I agree, I agree, I agree- and I think I do see the relationship for what it is, and not think it will ever be any different.
        If I chose to stay in relationship with her, it wouldn’t be blind, and it wouldn’t be in expectation of something in return, and it would definitely need to be limited/appropriate, ect. It would need to be boundaried.
        But, see- I am the type of person who would go do this (love someone who doesn’t love me back) just for the exercise of doing it. I feel like these things are exactly the things we need to waste our time on. The motivation wouldn’t be to get loved, as much as it would be to learn how to love.
        That’s where this whole mystical love theology takes me to.

        I am glad we are on a similar journey. What youre saying, and your exercises make a lot of sense. I have no idea what is really going to happen, but I think it is important to apply these things in whatever relationships and circumstances that are in our lives, everyday- as best as we can.

        For now, the stance I am taking came from a Martin Sheen quote: “Don’t plan your life, live it!”
        I am not going to make my choice of where I live and work soley due to my mom. (Good thing, since I’M LIKE 40+!) I am going to send my resume’s out to where ever it sounds like it would be a good fit, and a beneficial move.
        I’ve got 3 or 4 major metropolitans in Texas, there are “New Grad” job offers across the country that come with a few really great benefits, there is California, there are the Carolina’s, there is even Florida, Arizona and Colorado!
        I’m just going to see what opens up, and go from there.

        I do know that if I did make this decision just for the sake of my mom, I would be denying other things that are just as important to me.
        So- that is my plan-direction unknown, but I think the how I will live and function no matter what direction is what we are talking about here, and is the most important part.

      2. You are missed, Matt (not trying to induce guilt- I swear!!)
        If you look on the bright side though, you could take this opportunity to develop a kind of mysterious Great Gatsby persona.
        Then we could all just imagine that you are in a tuxedo somewhere, sipping a martini. Sound good???
        You mean a lot to this place, too. Thank you for making it a place to be a part of 🙂

  19. Lindsey, I’m writing here just because it’s easier. 🙂 I too have a mystical streak to me, (though I come to it from a different angle than you) and I have some thoughts I wanted to share with you.

    You said:

    “I am really prone to mystical love theology (and it doesn’t help that I read Richard Rohr before reading here 🙂 , so what I am thinking may just sound like nebulous -vapor talk, but I really believe that stuff about God being Love and his desire for us to is love another.
    I really do want to be able to see others, and accept others exactly where they are. I really do want to be able to give them love and grace.
    I do know the problem comes in when I realize I am a person, too, and I need love as well. And if I just pour myself out in the hopes of recognition and/or a return on my love investment then I will likely end up felling shortchanged. (That resentment et al that you wrote about…I know it too well!!)
    I cant depend on getting that need met by others, especially when they show no interest in loving me back.
    So you’re right- its about me setting boundaries, it is loving and being in relationship with those who have the capacity to love me back, and it is relying on God to be my source of Love. Then I am better able to truly love others without, in some way, harming myself or expecting more of them than what they are willing/ able to give”

    …and that made me think of something I read, but I can’t remember where or by whom, sadly. Possibly Scott Peck. Anyway, it was about how our spiritual journeys will lead us towards transcending our egos’ boundaries, to love and see others exactly as they are, too experience oneness etc.

    But. But but but.

    The author/thinker also said that we can’t go directly from codependency / enmeshment / giving ourselves up / not having a healthy sense of self / not having a healthy set of boundaries / not having dealt with (to a large extent) our dysfunctions originating from childhood or wherever elser and straight to mystical love/transcending our egos. The spiritual path that will eventually lead us to oneness / transcendent love / whatever words you deem fitting MUST go through healthy adulthood first. Which includes establishing and enforcing healthy boundaries.

    This rings true to me. I wish I could offer an elegant explanation (or indeed, find one someone else has written and quote it) for why this is true. But for now, I just think of it as needing to crawl before we can walk. Or building a take-off/llanding platform before we can fly away in a plane. Or having to learn how to play a melody before you can start improvising on your instrument.

    Or this: I believe our souls / Christ consciousness / Buddha nature / supreme loveliness lies in the core of us somehow. And many of us are living more from our unhealthy (to some degree) psyches, trying to protect us from pain we have experienced before but not moved through to completion, or just living from whatever beliefs we’ve aquired. And so, to get to our core, we need to go from wherever we are in our unwell-to-some-degree pscyhes and through the various layers of pain/stories, and we’ll need to establish healthy boundaries, a healthy ego so that we’re basically good parents to ourselves and so we can gain a healthy foundation from which we interact with the world. And from there we can transcend. 🙂

    In short: Unhealthy ego (leaning towards narcissism or codependency or both or whatever else) -> healthy ego (with healthy boundaries, full respect living for oneself and others) -> transcendence

    I think there was included something about how falling in love offers us a glimpse of what transcendence / mystical love is like, but it doesn’t last. It’s just a glimpse, precisely because healthy adulthood / mature love must be at the foundation first before we can expereince transcendence /mystical love / oneness can be more of a regular and lasting way of life.


    1. Hey Donkey,
      I really like what you wrote here.
      The thing that stands out for me is the word “transcendence”, and what is meant by that.
      Growing up I would think transcendence meant something like being above my humanity, or maybe something like the gnostics that believed all things bodily and physical were basically unnecessary and even evil.
      I still picture transcendence as finding some mental/spiritual space to be in that doesnt really require consciousness.
      I dont know if that is what the author meant, or if he meant specifically transcending our ego’s etc.
      I am totally on board if it is the latter.
      And, exactly opposite of transcendence by mere thought/meditation/mind power, I believe any real transcendence of ego has to have feet on the ground. Not that the mind isnt very powerful- it is, and I do think people have the capacity to block out pain mentally, but that usually requires detaching from the physical self and has little power in actually transforming or growing us in the face of pain.

      So, I definitely agree that we have to learn how really love, and we will likely fail alot. But it has to be something we actively participate in.
      I think alot of substantial change and personal growth comes from coming into contact with outside forces that help mold us.
      I dont think we can think ourselves, or even using Christian terminology “believe” ourselves into a new way of being.

      We have to actually DO it.

      I also can totally agree that euphoric feeling of love isnt sustainable, and it isnt mature love. But it was definitely real, and it wasnt something I felt I had any control over. Maybe just the belief in what I read in the Gospels, and the relief I felt triggered a bunch of my feel good NT’s- that is probably what happened, but still!
      The take away for me was that God was a source of everlasting love, and He did give me just a glimpse of that.
      I am definitely still learning how to love and be loved. That will likely be happening for the rest of my life :).

      1. “I dont know if that is what the author meant, or if he meant specifically transcending our ego’s etc.
        I am totally on board if it is the latter.”

        Yes, I do think he meant the latter! Again, I can’t find the quote I’m looking for and it’s not all neat and tidy in my head, so I know it’s not all very clear. :S

        “I also can totally agree that euphoric feeling of love isnt sustainable, and it isnt mature love. But it was definitely real, and it wasnt something I felt I had any control over. Maybe just the belief in what I read in the Gospels, and the relief I felt triggered a bunch of my feel good NT’s- that is probably what happened, but still!
        The take away for me was that God was a source of everlasting love, and He did give me just a glimpse of that.”

        Oh, I definitely believe it was real. My point was more that, growing from
        1.) unhealthy ego to – 2.) healthy ego and then to –
        3.) oneness / Love / whatever terms you feel comfortable with, the joy and love we’ll feel a lot of at stage number 3 (to be very simplistic) will feel somewhat similar as the falling in love we can experience (but which doesn’t last) in stage 1 (maybe stage two aswell). But it will be more grounded and more lasting. And I think that can apply both to relationships with people (and not just romantic) and religious experiences.

        I sometimes think of the joy we can experience in stage 1 as falling in love. And the joy we can experience in stage 3 (after having gone through 2) I think of as the joyful ,yet grounded intimacy we can sometimes experience with friends, romantic partners, where we sometimes do have the experience of oneness. 🙂 They feel similar and yet… different. So that’s kind of what I think of when I say (really, I’m påraphrasing someone else) that falling in love/being in love offer a glimpse of the joy we can experience after having gone through healthy adulthood and then transcended/grown further/taken the leap into a more mystical love, sense of oneness.

        And I don’t think this is a one time thing either. I think we can move between the three stages, maybe with our bestie we’re at 3 sometimes, otherwise at two, but with family we’re at 1, with other friends we’re at two etc.

        1. I think I get ya, Donkey. It would stand to reason that we would need to be mature in our emotions and in our understanding to recognize our place in the world, and I think it is just that-(recognizing our place in the world) that can help us to transcend the ego.

          That takes humility. It is that humility to understand 1.) this is who I am/this is my role/this is what I can give 2.) this is where I am limited/this is what I need, but I am not deficient in being me 3.) there is this larger thing than my own consciousness- whether we just see it is the rest of humanity here on earth, or we see it as God/the Kingdom of God, or as a collected union of souls, it is recognized as being something beyond us, but a part of us and we are a part of it.

          That is the oneness that I think about when we talk about transcending our ego’s into oneness.

          I do think the euphoric love can be felt at all the stages you identified. I think the difference is that feeling isn’t the motivation and we can recognize it as not the end of participation in love when we are more mature.

          I think the best joy, and love, can be shared when everyone involved, is kind of all just guests to the party. As each person participates in interaction they are giving of their true selves, and they are genuinely cared for, appreciated and received, the other party (or parties in some cases) receives and gives out of their true self, and and it just continues.
          In some ways- that is being in the “oneness”, that is participating in the larger thing.
          Or at least, I feel like it is.

          I guess part of me is a little resistant to the idea of melding my identity with a faceless blurred “oneness”. (even though I think I was more pro this idea once before…).
          I think there is still distinctions in who we are, but it is the interactions together- the fluidity of interactions, like smooth machinery, that creates the whole/complete/oneness.

          PS- No sweat about not having everything nice and tidy in your brain- you have seen how mine works- “nice” and “tidy” are not words I describe it as at all! Lol 🙂

      2. I think we’re quite in agreement, Lindsey. 🙂
        I find the party analogy interesting!

        (And this may be blatantly obvious, but don’t feel pressured to make lovely paragraphs for my sake obviously, just if that’s something you want for yourself. :p)

      3. Donkey,
        Hey- sorry I didn’t respond back with an affirmative. I think we are in agreement as well.
        And, I think the whole paragraphing idea is a good one.
        For some crazy reason, I have gotten the idea that the grammar rules that were taught in schools (and which I never had any problems with), didn’t really apply in our adult day to day interactions. In fact most of the writing I do for clinical work is in shorthand, or reduced to checking boxes, so I hardly ever use it.
        And I am lazy.
        So writing so people can actually understand what I am trying to say, may be good practice. ; )

  20. According to Christian tradition the seven deadly sins are PRIDE, COVETOUSNESS, LUST, ANGER, GLUTTONY, ENVY AND SLOTH.

    I am beginning to think “Asshole-ness” should be included; or maybe it is a combination of several of the above.

    Maybe it should be in a category of its own like — defined by the presence of rampant immaturity! It seems we all have -at one time or another- been afflicted.

    I also wonder if we can prevent our children from ” catching the disease/disorder”. What are the early warning signs? Can we do “interventions” ,like alcoholics anonymous, when we see it overtaking our highly vulnerable teenagers. Who among us is recognizable as being in a state of complete remission/sobriety (so to speak) so that we can ask them for assistance?

    1. Hey Marilyn,
      I think your being a little funny/ sarcastic in your word-smithing, am I right? 🙂
      Yeah, for the most part we are all afflicted. Some may catch on, others won’t.
      (I’m pretty sure I still have major blind spots myself …so, patience,patience,patience… With ourselves, and others. )

  21. Hey linds01,

    Yeah, you caught me being somewhat sarcastic. Still, It seems to me to be an almost universal affliction. Patience is of course helpful, and in the meantime…..our partners, friends, our children are left trying to defang the devil. It’s not fair.

    I know our stalwart Matt and our intrepid warrior-poet Travis and a lot of others (myself included) probably would have swallowed a magic potion without hesitation so that our lives and the lives of our loved ones would have been significantly different

    Sarcasm aside, and in all seriousness, I wish there was an antidote besides waiting for the light bulb to finally come on; or the “ah-ha” moment to arrive.

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    1. Yes, Yes, Yes and Yes again to A through D.

      Another mountain to climb, another river to cross, and another promise to keep. I am feeling overwhelmed before I start. Luckily I have comrades who will help me along the way. Thank you. Oh, I forgot. I must forgive myself for past asshole behavior and also others for their missteps.

    2. Thanks Matt,

      I sent a more lengthy reply — it seems it got lost in cyberspace. So,in brief, another mountain to climb, another river to cross, another promise to keep. Worthwhile, difficult and in the final analysis a resounding, “YES!” to A through D

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