As far back as I remember, I was taught that some human behaviors are so bad that if you do them, God—an otherwise all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving father figure—will be so pissed and disappointed with your choices that you run the risk of being banished to the shittiest, most-frightening, most-painful environment imaginable for ETERNITY.
I don’t know how many of you try to conceptualize FOR-FREAKING-EVER, but it hurts my head so much that even the concept of an eternal paradise scares me a little. I’m not really capable of imagining forever. Dinosaurs were alive 65 million years ago. Compared to FOREVER, 65 million years is less time than it took you to read this sentence, relative to our lifetime.
Let’s not discuss theology, please. I have no idea what’s true and not true, and I have a sneaking suspicion no one else does either—even those who act like they’re really certain about it.
This Bad Human Behaviors List was mostly not a problem.
I didn’t want to kill anyone. I never even liked hurting people.
I didn’t want to rape, or kidnap, or steal things. I didn’t even want to covet my neighbor’s wife or possessions.
I wanted to treat people well—not for praise or recognition—but just because that’s what naturally made sense for me.
The things on the Bad Human Behaviors List were super-easy to avoid for the first 12 or so years of my life. I didn’t want to do them anyway! Yay!!! I’m going to Heaven!!!
And then somewhere along the way, I started waking up with erections and inevitably had one anytime I was called up to write something on the chalkboard in front of the class at school. Sex became a thing I thought about a lot, and to some extent, talked about with friends.
By mid-high school, I’d experienced alcohol and marijuana, and decided I really liked both.
And for the first time in my life, my personal values were on the line.
Am I going to be the kind of person who does things because I like them and they feel good even though I believe they’re wrong?
With the full knowledge and understanding that having sex outside of marriage AND consuming alcohol or smoking pot just to “feel good” were on the Bad Human Behaviors List—the very list that will damn your ass to an eternity of excruciating fiery torment—I totally chose to do them anyway.
These things were now a part of my world, and there was nowhere to hide from them. What I discovered is that if you drink enough, and smoke a bowl, and climax a couple of times with a sexy partner in crime, you kind-of dull or mute the discomfort of guilt, shame and fear. Like a numbing agent.
Temporary relief from the discomfort of Real Life.
Whenever that relief wore off, you’d just do it again. Like a non-hospitalized college kid’s personal morphine drip.
Twenty years, one son who needs my guidance, and one divorce later, and I still find myself pushing that metaphorical button.
It doesn’t look anything like it used to. I never smoke. I rarely drink. I’m no longer surrounded by 10,000 single women every day.
But I’m still dancing with the question: What kind of person am I? What do I REALLY believe, and can I live courageously and authentically in whatever those true and actual beliefs might be?
Do You Ever Lie Like I Lied?
I didn’t think it was lying. Deception for the sake of taking advantage of someone, or benefiting at others’ expense.
THAT’s lying, right? I’m just not always disclosing the whole truth. That’s so much different than lying! Keeping some things to myself isn’t on the Bad Human Behaviors List!
I was pretty much being Peter in the movie scene from “Office Space” when he’s trying to justify to his girlfriend how stealing fractions of a penny from his employer isn’t actually wrong since Take-a-Penny trays exist.
Because I fucking lied. I was lying to myself as I spent years convincing myself I was doing the right thing.
I was “honest” in that I never tried to deceive my wife in some ultra-heinous way. But I lied to her by misrepresenting myself about sex.
“We celebrate anniversaries instead of the quality of relationships.”
– Mark Groves, relationship coach, speaker, writer
I wasn’t ashamed to drink with her nor have honest conversations about it. It wasn’t a source of guilt and shame.
I wasn’t ashamed to have honest conversations about pot smoking with her because it was such a relatively insignificant thing in our adult lives. It just didn’t matter enough to ever matter.
But then we get to sex. It’s always so uncomfortable to talk about for me, like I’m 12 again.
Maybe deep down, I’m still the 12-year-old just waiting for God to ban-hammer my sinful ass to perma-bathe in some hellfire lava pit.
Here’s the important part:
I was afraid to communicate things I thought and felt about sex to my wife—both when we were dating, and during our marriage.
Because I was afraid of rejection.
I was afraid my wife wouldn’t like the REAL ME, so I played like I was all morally virtuous in the sex department, even though I was actually a little pervy, and fantasized about interracial three-ways and other rad stuff that would probably make my grandma cry.
When Did We Decide Everyone Else Matters More Than Us?
This isn’t about sex, or moral righteousness, or even communication in marriage.
It’s about betraying and abandoning yourself to win the approval of others.
I was watching and listening to relationship coach and speaker Mark Groves talk about these ideas in a video I’ll share below.
[Full disclosure: Mark and I “met” for the first time on the phone last week because I really like and respect the work he does, and from that conversation I am intentionally looking for opportunities to share Mark’s work and support him, as he has the same mission that I do, and he’s already doing what I one day hope to—write about and talk about this stuff full-time.]
In this talk, Mark shares a number of personal stories (not unlike I try to do) in order to illustrate the lesson he learned from it, and share ideas for a better way of living.
Listening to his talk from the video, I was affected when he talks about how there’s a moment when we’re kids where most of us abandon ourselves in favor of: “I need to be this type of person to get the love of my parents.”
And how we often behave and make major life decisions (including who we date and/or marry) in an effort to live up to whatever cultural, religious, educational standards we believe will earn us the approval or praise of others.
“So we become who we think we need to be to be loved,” Mark said. “But when we do that, who’s not getting the love? Inside?
“Us. We abandon self to stay part of a group that doesn’t even celebrate who we truly are.
“That used to be something that preserved us in evolution, but it doesn’t seem so helpful now.”
The Science of Relationships (a Mark Groves talk)
Mark and I had a great talk where it was clear we were both passionate about the idea that our interpersonal relationships are truly the things that have the greatest impact on our lives.
How good or bad our human, earthly life experiences are is most greatly affected by the quality of our closest relationships. How good we feel. How healthy we are.
Yet, we spend our lives NOT learning about relationships from anyone except people who ALSO suck at them. Then shitty things happen and we cry and stuff.
I often use the term “failed relationship.” Mark hates that term and called it “shitty.”
“A relationship that ends is not a failure,” Mark said. “It’s expansion. It’s growth. It’s just the end of a story.
“We celebrate anniversaries instead of the quality of relationships.”
I spent a lot of time thinking about that. Longevity is beautiful, and Mark is the first to say so. But longevity DOES NOT make a relationship “successful.”
And it doesn’t have to be this way.
The path to a better way starts with treating ourselves better.
You deserve it. We all do.