Is It Better To Be Single?

guys-drinking-bar-rotator

A while ago I was out with a buddy, and while we were eating he looked at me and asked “do you ever miss being single?”

That’s a pretty loaded question, so I had to get a bit of clarification on what he meant.  He wasn’t talking about dating, or looking for other women.  He was talking about simply being able to do what we were doing – being able to go out and grab some food with a buddy.  To not have to worry about kids, or when he needs to be home, or feeling guilty about leaving his wife alone with the kids while he goes takes time for himself.

Looking at it that way, do I miss being single?

Truthfully?

Of course I do.  But maybe it’s better to say that I miss certain aspects of it.

 

The Traditional Path

Growing up many of us follow the template:

  • Finish high school
  • Get a post-secondary education
  • Start a career
  • Date, with the hopes of finding that someone you want to build a life with
  • Get married
  • Raise a family

We follow the template because we see it.  It’s been modeled to us our whole lives – from parents, grandparents, friends, the media, etc.  And although people may not say it explicitly, at least at a subconscious level we are taught that this is “the best way”, or “the right way” to live.

Is it TRULY the best way to live?

Personally I like the template, but divorce rates (that continue to hover around 50% for first marriages) would seem indicate that it’s not necessarily an easy way to live.

So best?  Who knows.

At the very least, I can say it’s not the only way to live.

 

Different “Ways” To Live

There are other ways to life your life.

Some choose to remain single (with no relationship).

For people who do, I suppose you can question if they actually want to be single or if they have just resigned themselves to it.

I suspect it’s probably a mix of both.  Really, for the people who are married I wonder how many actually want to be married and how many are simply scared to be alone.  In any case, remaining single is a viable choice, and is the one that provides the greatest amount of personal freedom.

You may never actually be able to do whatever you want, but your choices impact less people when it’s just you.

 

Others may stay single yet date casually.  I guess this is way of trying to have some of the benefits of a relationship without the expectations commitment brings.

 

Then you have others who are in exclusive relationships, but have no interest in marriage or even living together.  I know a guy who’s been with his girlfriend for a few years now.  Both are divorced, have their own kids, and love each other.  But they still value living independently, and their relationship is mainly characterized by getting together a few nights a week and vacationing together periodically.

According to him this approach helps reduce the effects of taking each other for granted (hedonic adaptation), because they only see each other when they want to.

Personally I don’t get it, but hey, it seems to work for them.

 

For each of these approaches you can also add a variation – with kids and without.  If you’re raising a family together, I would think that probably works best for all involved if you are living under one roof.  But kids bring with them a whole other set of challenges.

Really, the life of a married couple with no kids generally looks VERY different from the life of a married couple with kids.  And even comparing couples with kids, the number of kids and their ages can have big impacts on what the couple’s lives look like.

 

Choosing a Path

So what approach is best?  To stay single (and not date)?  Date casually?  Get married?  Have kids?  Not have kids?

There’s no right or wrong answer here.

  • If you stay single you have the greatest control over your own life.  And although you may not have a “partner”, you probably have friends, family, coworkers, etc to provide much of the connection that people often look for in a relationship.
  • If you date casually, your relationship life is probably more “exciting” (speculating here, as I really wouldn’t know).  The early phase of a relationship is often referred to as the discovery phase, or the passion phase.  It’s a phase that can’t last though, so having a number of new relationships ensures you are always having new experiences.
  • If you are in a long term committed relationship where you are living with that person/married, you will have a partner in life, and someone to share experiences and “grow old” with.
  • If you have children, you have the experience of truly developing and shaping another life to be the best it can be.  And there is a certain level of pride and joy in being a parent that is difficult to articulate, and can only be understood by someone who is a parent.

 

Each approach to life is different.  They each have a number of strengths; but there are also a number of challenges and struggles inherent to each approach.

There is no perfect approach that can give you the good without the bad.  Being a parent has some incredible and rewarding moments.  But man, it also involves a lot of sacrifice and challenges.  Getting married and having a partner in life can be great, but it can also be very difficult.

Each choice involves making some sort of sacrifice, and giving up something else.  It’s part of the trade off.

 

Grass is Greener Syndrome

Where we get ourselves in trouble is when we start comparing, or looking at “the road not chosen”.

When times are good, we don’t even think about our choices (which sadly means we actually taking them for granted and not appreciating the good in them).

When times get hard though?  Well, during those times the sacrifices and challenges or our chosen road often stand out.  And it’s easy to start to question if it’s worth it.

 

Imagine you have chosen one road, and you find yourself talking to someone who has chosen another.  It’s really easy to look at their life and see primarily the good parts.  The freedoms they have that are different from yours, the sacrifices you make that they don’t seem to have to make.

Remember though – two people can go out who have chosen different roads, and talk.  And each can head home envious of the others life.

The grass isn’t really greener on the other side.  It’s just a bit different.  With both strengths and weaknesses – just like the life we have now.

 

Going back to the start, do I miss being single?  Sure, sometimes.  I would be lying if I said otherwise.  I also sometimes miss the freedom from my life before I was a parent.

Hell, I miss the days I lived at my parents – where I had no job (beyond my paper route), no responsibilities or bills, and not a care in the world.  Did I appreciate that life at the time?  Of course not – because that life was just what I knew.

And that’s the sad part.

Often you don’t appreciate the things you have until they are gone.  We shouldn’t HAVE to lose things before we can appreciate them.  We should be able to take time out every day, and be truly grateful for the things we DO have.

If we could do that, maybe the bad times wouldn’t feel so overwhelming.  Maybe we wouldn’t get to the point where we are looking longingly at the road not taken.

 

So instead of looking at what we don’t have and what we are missing, perhaps we should be trying to remember and appreciate the strengths of the road we have chosen.  And focusing on making it the best life it can be.

justNeedToWaterIt

 

 

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You Only Live Once

yolo-board

When we are young we tend to think of ourselves as invincible. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say we have no concept of mortality. Eventually however, this changes.

There can be any number of triggers. Midlife (and the realization that we are statistically closer to death than birth), serious injury or illness, or perhaps the death of a loved one. Anything can happen to make you realize that your time on this earth is limited.

YOLO

One of the relatively recent catch phrases/acronyms (whatever you want to call it) is YOLO, or “you only live once”. This has become a mantra for a whole generation, and it carries with it the following connotations:

  • Do what you want
  • Do whatever makes you happy
  • Live for today
  • Don’t worry about the future
  • Don’t care what others think about you, live the way you want

Do you notice a trend in those? Kind of like my post What’s in it for Me?, it’s all about you. It’s all about your own pleasure, happiness, and instant gratification.

Often when you hear people use the term YOLO it’s in response to behavior that most would consider immature. Calling in sick for work because you were out drinking with buddies during the week? YOLO. Cheating on your partner because a “better opportunity came along”? YOLO. Going into debt to live a lifestyle you can’t afford? YOLO.

In fact Urban Dictionary refers to YOLO as “The dumbass’s excuse for something stupid that they did”. That description seems a bit harsh, but when you see the way YOLO is used it’s actually a fairly accurate definition. The way many people use YOLO, it has become an excuse for a lack of personal responsibility.

What is Freedom?

In the YOLO mindset, freedom is the unstated goal. The freedom to do what you want, when you want, with who you want and how you want. “Responsibility” is treated as a bad thing, because it is viewed as the antithesis of “freedom”.

I struggle to understand how responsibility is a bad thing. Yeah, I’ll admit that it would be nice to not have to worry about a mortgage and bills. But guess what, that’s part of life. Unless you are living as a gypsy and living off the land, you kind of need some form of income.

When you’re 20 it’s fine to live at home with mom and dad. Maybe even when you’re 30 (depending on the situation). But when you’re much older than that, it’s probably a good thing if you are able to handle responsibility and support yourself. I don’t know about you, but I fail to see how living paycheck to paycheck while living with mom and dad, or just living day to day with no plans or direction for the future is a sign of “freedom”.

I would think real freedom comes from having some sort of control over your own life. You may not be able to do things on a whim, but if you set priorities and make plans you are often able to accomplish almost anything. How is that a bad thing? I see that as empowering, not restricting.

Living In The Moment

Another problem with YOLO is that it focuses on instant gratification. All that matters is the here and now. You only worry about the future when it comes. But that sort of short term thinking often means you don’t have a future. Or it means your future is much more limited than the one you hoped for. Impulsive decisions tend to have consequences, and some of those consequences aren’t pleasant.

Oh, I’m pregnant!!! Hey look, an STD!!! Oh snap, I killed someone while driving drunk. Ah well, it’s no big deal, I was living in the moment!!!

Yolo

Balancing the Future and Present

Short term thinking can cause all sorts of issues for people.

From a financial standpoint, it can lead people to spend their money on things they want (not necessarily need), or spend more than they have and go into debt. Credit cards and loans may seem a great way to get something, but they are less appealing when you are struggling to make payments.

It can also damage your future emotionally. This doesn’t always apply, but often affairs happen because someone is looking for something missing in their relationship, and the affair is easier than putting in the work to address the problems in the relationship. Often the thing people are looking for is something they could have had in their relationships, and they are just as guilty as their partner for the breakdown of whatever they feel is missing.

Some people go the opposite route and focus too much on the future at the expense of the present. I’ve been guilty of that, and I recognize it. I’m now making it a point to do enjoy today a bit more, and not worry as much about the future. Neither approach is healthy. You need to balance today with tomorrow.

I get that it’s easy to focus on today. What you need or want now seems immediate, and it is hard to make sacrifices today for a future that may seem out of reach; especially when there are no guarantees of the future. But although the future isn’t guaranteed you still need to prepare for it.

For me, setting goals for the future is something that gives me hope, and gives me something to strive towards. It gives meaning to the grind of the routines of day to day life.

Setting Priorities

Where YOLO does get things right is that it is true that you only get one life. Even if you believe in an afterlife, the life we have and know is finite – once its gone, its gone. But that doesn’t mean you should focus on yourself. I don’t think that’s what life is really about.

A family member was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, and it’s been a reminder of my own mortality. My response has not been to go out and spend all my money on “wants”, or to feel that I need to accomplish all my goals “today”. I haven’t spent my days in a drug and alcohol induced haze and gone off seeking pleasure wherever I can find it.

Rather, I have re-examined my own life and looked at my own priorities and what is important to me. The most important things to me are my wife and my children. My family. The people who matter to me. They are infinitely more important than the car I drive, the house I live in, or what I did last night.

Sure I have goals and dreams. I have things that I want to accomplish in my life. For example, I love travelling. I love seeing new places, trying new foods and experiencing new cultures. There are a number of places in the world that I hope to see during my life. But to me, the experience means more when I share it with someone I love. What is the point of doing any of that if I lose the things that matter to me in the process?

ThinkingAboutPriorities

When I look at YOLO, I have a different approach. To me it means:

  • Do something that matters
  • Live how you want to be remembered
  • Make the most of it

I’m just one person and I have limited influence. But I still hope to leave the world a better place than I found it. The thing I can influence the most is my children, and hopefully raise them to live their lives with integrity. I try to involve myself somewhat in my community. Nothing major, but enough that I feel I have made some sort of mark.

Even this blog. I don’t know who reads it or if my words resonate with anyone. But if I can make one person actually think or give them some sort of hope, then I have accomplished something (though I will likely never know it).

That’s what YOLO is about to me. Its not about doing what I want when I want. Its not about avoiding responsibility. I only have one life, and I want to live it in a way that I can be proud of.

the-concept-of-yolo

Your Last Day

What if today was your last day? What would matter to you?

If today was my last day, I wouldn’t spend it getting drunk, getting high, or looking for a quick thrill.

I would want to spend it surrounded by the people I love, and the people who matter to me. I would want to play with my children, read to them and draw pictures with them.

I would want to spend the day outdoors with my family. I would take the time to enjoy the feel of the grass under my feet, and the warmth of the sun on my skin (well, not if it’s winter. I hate winter. I can’t say I enjoy the feel of my skin freezing).

Maybe I would have a dinner party with my closest friends and family, where we could enjoy a good meal, tell stories and just enjoy good company.

After I would put my kids to bed, and tell them I love them. Then I would spend my last hours with my wife, reminiscing about all the good we have had in our life, and trying to laugh about the times that weren’t so good. I would hold her, tell her that I love her, and we would make love one last time before drifting off to sleep in each other’s arms.

In retrospect that would probably be pretty traumatic for her to wake up with me dead, but hey, I’m assuming it’s my last day not hers. But that’s what my last day would look like.

You only live once. So make the most of it.

What Does a “Real Person” Look Like?

barbie-proportions

If you’re a regular at thezombieshuffle, you know that I’m a big proponent of accepting yourself for who you are, while always striving for self-improvement. At first glance those two concepts may seem contradictory. If you accept yourself for who you are why should you strive to be something more? Rather than being contradictory, I see them as complementary.

By accepting yourself, I mean that it’s important to truly be able to love yourself for who you are, as you are. The person you are today may not be perfect, but you are “enough”. This doesn’t however mean you can’t improve, and strive to be something more. And in fact I think we should always strive to improve ourselves in all aspects of life. Saying you are enough simply means you are measuring your self-worth against who you actually are, instead of some ideal of who you believe you should be. It’s saying I don’t NEED to be more to be worthy of love and acceptance by myself and others. I am worthy of love and acceptance as I am right now.

Body Image

In order to accept yourself for who you are you need to be able to accept all of yourself for who you are. But when we look in the mirror, we don’t see our hearts and souls – we see our bodies. Think of our bodies, and our ideas of beauty for a moment.

People magazine has an annual “sexiest man alive” issue. Over the past few years the winners were Adam Levine, Channing Tatum, Bradley Cooper, Ryan Renolds, Johnny Depp, Hugh Jackman, Matt Damon and George Clooney. In 1989 it was Sean Connery, who was 60 at the time. That list has considerable diversity among both age and body type.

Now look at the equivalent for women. Esquire has a “sexiest woman alive” list, and over the past few years they have Scarlett Johansson, Mila Kunis, Rihanna, Minka Kelly, Kate Beckinsale, Halle Berry and Charlize Theron. The women all seem to be between their early 20’s and early 30’s, and they all share a similar body type. The cover photos of the women are much more sexualized, with greater focus on their… shall we say “physical attributes”. The mold women need to fit to meet the standard of beauty seems very rigid. Let’s face it, you sure don’t see any 60 year old women on that list. Why not? Why is age fine for men, but not for women?

In most movies or TV shows, if there is a female character that is supposed to be “ugly” they are always someone who is beautiful by most standards. They just have less makeup, or are dressed in frumpy or quirky clothes.
If you think about age, in movies it is so common to see an older male protagonist with a much younger woman that you don’t really notice it. But if an older woman is with a younger man then it’s likely some sort of plot device. Older men are seen as “distinguished”, while older women are just seen as old.

Seeing all this, I have to admit sometimes I’m really glad I am a guy. I can only image how hard it is for a woman to constantly be bombarded with this sort of media imaging of what is beautiful, and how it must impact their self image.

You are More Beautiful Than You Think

A few years back, Dove had an ad campaign that touched on body image issues for women. In one ad women sat down with a police forensic artist who couldn’t see them, and he drew them based on how they described themselves.

Afterwards the women left and a second drawing of the person was done based on the descriptions provided by a person who had met them in the lobby.

The women tended to be critical of themselves, while the person who had met them in the lobby was more inclined to be positive in their descriptions of the woman. As shown the in commercial, the second drawing depicted the woman in a more flattering light (and also seemed more accurate). At the end of the ad, after seeing the two different pictures of her one woman noted:

We spend a lot of time as women analyzing and trying to fix the things that aren’t quite right, and we should spend more time appreciating the things we do like.

Body Transformation

Thinking of this unrealistic standard of beauty and negative body image reminds me of a mini controversy that erupted on social media a while back. An extremely fit mother of three posted a photo of herself in workout gear with her children, and a heading at the top that said “What’s your excuse?”

When it happened there was an outcry of people who felt that her image was an example of body shaming, and people saying that she didn’t represent what “real people” look like. Things took a nasty turn as photos of obese people started circulating social media in response with headings like “Is this what a real person looks like?”

It ended up making national news, and there was an ABC News interview where she said:

No matter how many children you have, especially when you’re working and trying to maintain your shape, you don’t have to lose yourself in becoming a mother. You can still maintain a sense of self physically and professionally. If I can do it, you can do it.

I think that instead of using “What’s your excuse” she probably should have used something like “You can do it too”. But part of me agrees with her. You CAN do it. Heck, I can do it too (though I may look somewhat ridiculous in a sports bra). You own your life, and make your own decisions. If you want changes in your life, the only way to do it is by taking ownership and making changes on your own.

So yes, you can get in great shape. But guess what? It requires work, time, and effort. And you have to ask yourself, what do you have to give up? What are your priorities?

What Do You Want?

If you want to get into better shape, stop and ask yourself WHY you want to get into better shape. What do you hope to accomplish? Be introspective and honest here. Are you trying to fit an arbitrary mold of beauty?

If so, let me give you perhaps a different perspective on body image. A buddy of mine plays competitive volleyball, and to keep playing as he has aged, he had a workout routine tailored to his needs. He made a comment to me that made a lot of sense. He said it was more important that he had functional muscles for what he wanted to do with his life than it was to have the sort of muscles that would attract attention in a bar.

We aren’t all competitive athletes, but the same idea applies. Instead of comparing yourself to fashion models and movie stars, ask yourself what are the things you enjoy doing? Travelling? Swimming? Bike riding? Softball? Keeping up with your children? Going for walks in the park? Are you able to do the things that you enjoy, or does your body and your physical conditioning hamper your ability to do these things? I think THAT should be the most important thing. Not trying to fit the mold of what society says is beautiful.

There are health risks associated with being overweight, so from a health perspective alone it is important to take care of yourself. But how your body “looks” isn’t necessarily an indicator of the sort of shape you are in. I’ve seen people with heavier builds power through high intensity aerobic classes while thinner and more “fit looking” people struggled to keep up.

Accepting yourself

Going back to what I said at the beginning, we all need to accept ourselves for who we are. That doesn’t mean giving up, or saying that I can’t get “better”. But we shouldn’t measure ourselves against the current standard of beauty. It’s also important to remember that your beauty starts from the inside, not the outside. There are many men and women whose outward appearance may be beautiful, while inside they are anything but.

Although we all do this, it’s best not to compare ourselves to others. There are different body types out there, and that’s fine. I won’t pretend to speak for all guys, but based on a sample of myself and a sizable group of male friends, I have to tell you ladies there isn’t a single mold of what is beautiful. People are all different, and just as our personalities are different so are the characteristics that we find attractive. Instead of trying to be someone else, strive to be the best “you” that you can be.

So what does a real person look like? You see them every day. Your neighbor, your best friend, your co-worker, and most of all you. We are all real people.

Accepting who you are (Identity Crisis pt. 2)

In the past few years I’ve read a lot of different relationship books, and most of them are psychology books. They tend to be factual and talk about the way people work, the way relationships work, positive and negative actions etc. They usually have quite a bit of valuable content, but honestly? Most of them are pretty damned boring to read.

Every relationship is different, so I don’t believe there is a “one size fits all” solution to relationship issues. So when reading something my approach has always been to see if anything resonates with me. If so, I try and adopt it. If not, I ignore it. A lot of the content in relationship books is just common sense – things that seem obvious. “be kind to your spouse”, “don’t sleep with other people” kind of stuff. But although obvious, they do talk about many traps that are easy to fall into if you aren’t careful. So sometimes getting a reminder of that “common sense” is beneficial.

The Gifts of Imperfection

The Gifts of Imperfection
Recently someone recommended I read “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brené Brown. I knew a little bit about what it was about, but I was still expecting more of the same old dry psychology texts with case studies. I ordered it online, and when it showed up I was a bit alarmed to see a “featured by Oprah” sticker on the cover.

Now, I don’t think I’ve ever even seen a full episode of Oprah. The only time I ever see daytime television is at the dentist’s office and the daytime television of choice there seems to be Springer or Dr. Phil (which is surprisingly entertaining).

Even if Oprah was on, usually I’m only half paying attention. It’s kind of hard to focus over the sound of the drill, polisher or questions/commentary from the dentist (side note – why do dentists talk to you while they work? Their freaking hands are in your mouth – It’s not as if you can respond!!!)

Anyhow, although I’ve never watched Oprah I have this image of her stuff as being all new age touchy-feely. Sure I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about relationships, and I’m relatively in tune with my emotions. But I’m still a guy. When I see a nail, I look for a hammer. I’m not sure if new age is really my thing.

But I bought the book, so I started reading. It opened with the following:

Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid but that doesn’t change the truth that I am worthy of love and belonging.

Wholehearted living is not a onetime choice. It is a process. In fact I believe it’s the journey of a lifetime.

I mentioned earlier that when I read something, I see if anything resonates with me. And I’ve gotta say, that opener hit home. I didn’t just read it, I felt it.

If you’ve read any of my prior posts you will know that I believe life is all about choice. Your outlook on life is up to you. Happiness is a choice that you make. Even love is a choice. Situations and problems don’t resolve themselves – we choose what actions we take (and doing nothing at all is also a choice). So that opening really spoke to me.

This wasn’t like most of the books I had read. And honestly, it wasn’t even a relationship book. It wasn’t all about facts, instead it was full of big ideas.

I’m Worthy Now

One of the keys of the book was the idea that we as people are worthy of love and acceptance today. Right now. Many people believe they are only worthy under certain conditions: If they could get a better job, if they could lose 10 lbs, if they could gain the approval of their parents, if they could…

…well, you get the idea. If maybe our situation was different, or we were something other than what we are right now. Part of it may be fear – oh I can’t do this because… But another part of it is that people often don’t feel they are “enough” and they think they need to be something more.

The message was that you need to accept yourself as you are and believe in yourself. You need to accept that although the person you are isn’t perfect, you are enough. Embrace yourself and accept yourself for who you are. That’s not to say we shouldn’t all strive for self improvement. But we should be accepted for who we are and not feel we need to fit some mold.

Perfection Doesn’t Exist

One of my mantras is that perfection doesn’t exist – it’s an ideal for us to strive towards. And I’ve always thought perfectionism was striving towards that ideal. Brené Brown has a different take though, and she sees perfectionism as a bad thing. According to her:

Perfectionism is not about achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfectly, look perfectly and act perfectly, we can avoid the pain of blame, judgment and shame.

Healthy striving focuses on you. It occurs when you ask yourself, “How can I improve?” Perfectionism keeps the focus on others. It occurs when you ask, “What will they think?”

This had never occurred to me, but I think it makes sense. A healthy approach to problems is that they are opportunities for improvement. But I’ve seen cases where people get really upset when one little thing goes wrong. Something may be going 98% right, and instead of appreciating how well things have gone I have seen people who place what appears to be an irrational focus on the 2% that went wrong.

Numbing Behaviors

In our search for worthiness, people have things they turn to when times are tough. Escapes that allow them to take the edge off any pain they may be feeling. The book talks about numbing behaviors, and defines them as any actions people take to avoid experiencing the pain of feeling unworthy. Addictions are the most common things people would think of as numbing behaviors, and they can be drugs, alcohol, gambling etc. But really, anything can be a numbing behavior. Books, TV, the internet, Facebook, video games, even exercise.

Everyone has their own outlets, their own escapes. Any of these escapes can become an addiction when someone turns to these behaviors frequently and compulsively. That makes sense, but here’s the part that I really thought was interesting. She goes on to state:

We cannot selectively numb emotions. When we numb the painful emotions, we also number the positive emotions.

So when we turn to something to try and escape the lows points in life, at the same time we are dulling the enjoyment we can have, and limiting the high points in life.

Loving Yourself

Suffice to say, I enjoyed the book and thought it presented some really interesting ideas. The book was largely about learning to love yourself. In order to do that it says we need to:

Practice letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are. Embracing who we are means accepting that we are not perfect, loving ourselves for who we are

I think that self love and accepting who you are is very important. And the importance of it can be seen when you look at how it impacts us in relationships.

At one point in the book the question is raised – can you love others more than you can love yourself? Brené Brown never conclusively answers that question (she has some arguments for and against), but here’s my take on it:

I believe that to feel loved we need to believe we are accepted for who we are. But if you go back to the gemstone idea from my last entry, it’s not easy to say who we really are. We are a lot of different things. In that entry I mentioned that the people who are closest to us are able to see the most of us, and our spouse should be the person who is closest to seeing the whole person. Everyone holds back to some degree though. We all have parts of ourselves that we are embarrassed of or ashamed about, and we try to hold those back even from those closest to us.

Here’s the problem – if we don’t love ourselves we are liable to hold more of ourselves back from the relationship. This is kind of like the numbing behaviors from the book. If we try to numb the pain, we also numb the positive emotions. As we hold back from our relationship for whatever reason (maybe we are scared to not be accepted or we are scared to fail), then we are also limiting the happiness that we can potentially have in that relationship.

What we get out of our relationships is directly proportional to what we put in. So for the greatest level of fulfillment we need to commit ourselves fully, body and mind to the relationship. But in order to fully vest ourselves in the relationship, we first need to be able to look in the mirror and be happy with what we see. And that’s not always easy.

So today’s advice to anyone out there is quite simply, love yourself. Love yourself and accepting yourself for who you are, and work on loving yourself every single day. Accepting yourself for who you are isn’t the same as resignation that you can never change. It doesn’t mean you can’t improve the things that you aren’t happy about. But it does mean that you don’t believe you need to change those things in order to be happy.

Identity Crisis

Have you ever felt lost, and wondered “who you really are?” I suspect all of us have an identity crisis at one point in time or another, a time in your life that you feel lost and are searching for “you”.

In many ways that’s what a mid-life crisis is. You hit a point that you realize “hey, I’m getting older here” and you question where you are in life, and the decisions that led you there. Some people are largely at peace with the choices they have made and the life they have built, so it doesn’t hit them very hard. Other people look at where they are and wish life came with a rewind button.

It can happen to anyone, at any point in time and it doesn’t matter how old you are. You can be closing in on retirement and still have days when you ask yourself what you really want to be when you grow up.

How do we find ourselves in these spots? How do we lose sight of who we are?

Playing Roles

A lot of it comes down to roles. Think of the different roles we play. We all take on a number of roles in our lives and these roles change and evolve along with us.

For family roles at first we are a child, sibling, grandchild, nephew or niece. Over time we may become a spouse, parent, son or daughter in law. To our spouses we are a friend, support, confidant and a lover.

If you are a parent, think of all the roles you play just with your children. You are a caregiver, teacher, friend, disciplinarian (both judge and jury). These roles can sometimes conflict too. You want to be a friend to your children, but when it’s time to be a disciplinarian that needs to trump the friendship.

I’m not trying to give an exhaustive list, but the point is that we are a lot of different things and different people see us in different ways.

If my parents look at me, they see the child that I will always be to them. I’ve been on my own now for longer than I lived with my parents; but although they know I am an adult and a parent to my own children, I am first and foremost their child and they will always see me that way.

Beyond these types of social roles, we develop different interests that in turn become roles for us. We become a musician, a dancer, an artist, an athlete. Even though we may not follow these things as a career we all have aspects of all of these within us (no matter what our aptitude for them is).

When we are younger, we probably dabble in a bit of everything while trying to find ourselves. Some people find their “calling”, other never do. Only a lucky few are able to base their careers off the things that truly interest them. Most of us continue to dabble in our interests on the side, while many of us stop working on that part of ourselves completely.

We play all these roles, and each of them comes with their own fears and insecurities. For example, it’s not really accurate to say that someone is a confident person. Maybe they are confident as an athlete, but terrified as a public speaker.

Gemstones

I was talking to a buddy about all these different roles we play and what they mean to who we really are, and he came up with a great analogy. His idea was that people are like cut gemstones (I’m not sure if it was really HIS idea, but it was the first time I heard it).

Think of a cut gemstone:

Cut Gemstone

Cut Gemstone Cross-Section

People are like this. We have all these different faces or surfaces – and the different surfaces represent different aspects of us. The roles we play, our interests, the sides of our personalities etc.

In our lives we encounter all sorts of different people, and each of those people only sees a part of us – a few aspects of us at a time. They are still “seeing us”, but they don’t see ALL of us. As the picture shows, a person can look different depending on which sides of them you are able to see.

The closer a person gets to you, the more of you they are able to see (which technically would be backwards for the gemstone analogy, but I’ll ignore that for now). Acquaintances only see a few aspects of you, while your closest friends will get to see more sides of you.

Depending on how much you are able to open up to other people, it’s possible that no one ever sees all of you. But you are still all of these different aspects (some of which may even conflict). To me this analogy really works.

So who is the “real” you? Is the real you the person your parents see? The one your children see? Your co-workers? Your friends? All of them are the real you – they are just different aspects of you.

What does this mean for relationships, and specifically for spousal relationships? There are two important things to take away from this.

Your spouse should be your best friend

First, your significant other should be the person who is closest to seeing the whole you. Interestingly, there may be a difference between men and women in this though. Many studies have shown that when asked who their best friend is, men are most likely to say their wives. Women on the other hand are most likely to name another female friend. As a guy, I buy into the notion that your spouse should be your best friend. They are the person you will hopefully spend the rest of your life with.

My dream is to grow old with my wife, and be able to walk hand in hand with her, laughing and loving one another each step of the way. Without being best friends I don’t see how that can happen.

You still need to be You

A while back I had a post that talked about the idea of a marriage box. The idea was that some people expect marriage to come with everything they need while in reality to you need to continue to grow and nurture your relationship. Just as some people expect marriage to give them everything they need, some people go into relationships expecting their spouse to be everything to them.

You hear stories all the time about people who start a relationship and then drop their friends. Their lives and their sense of identity become completely wrapped up in the marriage and in the other person. This is not a healthy approach to marriage.

Think of the gemstone analogy, people are complex and have many facets. The romantic notion of “you complete me” is somewhat true. Couples should be similar in some ways and complement each other in others. But no one person can meet all the different complex and conflicting needs – and we shouldn’t want them to.

Ever if one person could meet all of your needs it wouldn’t be healthy. Time apart and time with other friends is important to a relationship.

Here’s a quote I found (at this site) that I love:

As you give up those things you find fulfilling and important for the sake of the relationship, this places a tremendous burden on your spouse to fill the void of whatever you gave up. And this burden will create neediness and dependency, as well as resentment and boredom.

Every marriage needs space between the spouses. It is within this space that you find energy, passion, eroticism, quiet time, and personal fulfillment.

Balancing the “we” with the “me”

One place I disagree with the guy who wrote the above quote is that in the full article he says your spouse should not be your best friend, as he believes it’s damaging to the relationship. I believe your spouse “should” be your best friend, but they shouldn’t be your only friend.

While embracing being part of a couple (the “we”) it’s important not to lose sight of yourself (the “me”). This last part is where the struggle comes in. The things you did before you and your spouse met shouldn’t stop. They may not happen as often as you are now fitting someone new into your life, but they are part of what made you who you are. Giving that up is not only a disservice to yourself, but also to the long term health of your relationship (well, unless one your things was sleeping around, then ya it probably needs to stop).

Let’s say you love football and your spouse doesn’t. That’s fine – they don’t have to. It’s great if they show some interest in it, and maybe you will occasionally go to or watch a game with them. Your spouse showing an interest in football is really them showing an interest in you, and wanting to share things with you. But if you had friends that you watched football with before, that shouldn’t go away. And you shouldn’t feel like you need to bring your spouse all the time.

It’s important to find things that you can do together as a couple. And it is good to support your spouse in their interests that you don’t share. You need to find a way to balance “you” as an individual with “you” as part of a couple.

Remember though that time apart isn’t really time to be “you”. You are still you when you are with your spouse. Rather time apart is an outlet for different aspects of you. And this is needed in order for you to have the happiness and fulfillment required to allow your relationship to thrive.

Just doing the zombie shuffle

Recently I watched the movie “Warm Bodies”.  Great movie if you haven’t seen it, it’s kind of like Romeo and Juliet meets the zombie apocalypse (complete with the balcony scene).  Except instead of the Montagues and Capulets we’ve got a star crossed romance between a human and a zombie.  Yes, very strange.  But at the same time surprisingly great.

In the opening scene of the movie there’s a scene with zombies shambling through an airport.  There’s a voiceover from the main character explaining that this is his life.  He’s a zombie.  He doesn’t know what his life was like before or how he got that way, this is just what he is, and he spends his days walking around bumping into things.

As opening scenes go I thought it was great (and pretty funny too).  But when I was thinking about it later I thought holy crap, that’s really how most of us live our lives.  Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s not what the writers/directors intended.  And I suppose it says something about me that I’m trying to find meaning in a monologue about how zombies spend their time.  Anyhow, I digress…

Think about it for a moment though, and look at relationships.  Does ANYONE really have any idea what they are doing?  Did any of us get classes on relationships?  Did anyone teach us what’s healthy and what isn’t?  Hell no, we just kind of walk around bumping into things.  We make things up and try to figure it out as we go.

I remember when my wife and I came home from the hospital with our first child.  We walked into our house and put him on the ground.  The home that we had known was now being invaded by this little sleeping person strapped in a car carrier.  I can’t remember who said it, but we looked at each other and one of us said, “now what”.  We went and took a look and were a bit shocked to find that our child didn’t come with a manual.  There was also no course at the hospital that we had to pass before we were allowed to bring him home.  Suddenly we were parents, and it was up to us to discover what that meant.

We spent the next few years learning and I’m sure we made some mistakes along the way.  The bumps and bruises healed, and any psychological damage we did hopefully won’t surface for a few years yet (at least until he’s out of the house).

A few years later we had a second child, and strangely he didn’t come with a manual either.  But that was alright, because we were veterans now and we knew what we were doing.  Except, well, we didn’t.  It seems our second child was different from the first and the same rules didn’t apply.  We now found ourselves having to learn things all over again.

I think that’s how life goes – it presents us with situations and challenges.  We do our best and usually we figure things out (or at least think we do).  But sometimes we can’t figure things out on our own.  Sometimes the things we try don’t work and we find ourselves lost, not knowing what to do or where to turn.  And it is in these moments where things break down that we start looking for help.  We may turn to our spouses, families, friends, books, priests or whatever is a source of comfort for us.  Some of us also choose to struggle on alone.  We realize that we’ve been doing the zombie shuffle, just stumbling through life bumping into things and seeing what sticks, but now we don’t know what to do.

That’s what happened to me about a year and a half ago.  One day while sitting back watching TV with my wife of almost 13 years, I noticed her body language was somewhat “off”.  I asked her if everything was alright, and next thing I knew my whole world was crumbling around me.  She told me she wasn’t happy, she never “truly” loved me, she settled for me because she thought that I was as good as it would get, and that she didn’t know if she wanted to be married anymore.  There was lots of other fun stuff, but that sums up the important bits.

That experience turned my whole world upside down.  I started through the different cycles of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance (though I will admit I periodically relapse through any one of them).  I had to accept that my life as it was had changed, and I needed to redefine my future.  To understand that I figured I really needed to think through some concepts that I had thought I understood.

I thought I understood things like happiness, commitment and love.  I thought I understood what it meant to be a spouse, and to support the person you love.  But honestly I found I didn’t understand anything at all.  I thought I had been a good husband, but looking critically in the mirror I found that I didn’t necessarily like everything I saw.

A year and a half later my wife and I are still together, but we also have a long way to go and I don’t know what the future holds for us.  I would like to think that those events have helped me grow and become a better person.  The one thing I do know however is that my story is not unique.  I’ve met enough people with similar stories to know that I’m not alone.  It seems a lot of us have been shuffling through our relationships, bumping into things and trying to figure out what works.  Through introspection, reading, and especially talking to other people I gained some new insights, and started on my own thoughts on what it takes to succeed in life and love.

This isn’t about me or my life – not really.  That was the motivation and the starting point for this blog.  I’ll reference things that I’ve seen or done because hey, that’s what I know.  What I really hope is to use this as a way to continue to develop my own thoughts on assorted things related to what I think should be the most important things to us – life and love.  And maybe at the same time share those thoughts with others who may be looking for some direction, or just something to read.

I encourage any feedback.  I’ve learned a lot through reading comments on other forums and blogs, and think that all different perspectives provide some value.  Of course having comments means that someone has to be reading this (someone other than my mom, a couple buddies and someone who thought this was actually zombie related).  But hey, we all need to start somewhere.

So for anyone who joins me on this journey, thanks.  Hopefully we can all learn more about ourselves, and we can stop shuffling around and bumping into things all the time.  I guess that’s how people learn.  Try something and see if it works.  If so do it again.  If not, try something different.  I would like to think we can give each other guidance to make the bumps less frequent and a little less painful.  We’ve all been doing the zombie shuffle for long enough.  Lets try to find a better way together.