You Only Live Once


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.


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!!!


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?


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.


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.

Unconditional Love


When talking about love, one of the things you commonly hear of is someone saying that they are looking for unconditional love. What exactly does unconditional love mean though?

Does it mean you love all of them? Does it mean you love every aspect of that person? And conversely, if you find you don’t love “everything” about someone does that mean you don’t love them unconditionally? Does that perhaps mean that you don’t TRULY love them?

All or Nothing

The idea that if you love something you must love all of it, and conversely if a relationship has a problem then it means it is not “true love” is surprisingly common. It often goes hand in hand with the idea that if you find “the one” you should never have to work at things, and you will be able to live happily ever after.

This mindset is often referred to as all or nothing thinking. When this happens at a young age, you can chalk it up to idealism and a lack of experience. But when it persists over time, this is a broken thinking pattern (sometimes referred to as a cognitive distortion) and a sign of emotional immaturity.

Incidentally, this particular thinking pattern is often found in people who have avoidant personality types, are chronically unhappy, or are dealing with depression or some form of mood disorder.

It can cause significant issues in relationships, as it sets an unrealistic bar for people to measure up to. If your partner has to be perfect, they will always disappoint.

It’s Still Poo

All or nothing thinking is a broken approach to looking at relationships, and world in general. A lot of things come down to belief and opinion, but the idea that loving something means you have to love all of it is simply incorrect.

Of all the things in the world, most would agree that a parent will always love their children. There are exceptions I suppose, but even when spousal relationships break apart parents will usually try to do the best for their children. So to see how broken the all or nothing approach to life is, let’s take a look at being a parent.

I love my children and would do almost anything for them. I love being active in their lives, and I try to take enjoyment out of the time I spend with them. Does that mean I love everything about them?

I’m past the diaper days, but thinking back to those days does loving my children mean I had to love changing their diapers? Not a chance. Yes, these were my child’s diapers I was changing. And I’m happy that I changed them as it was one of the many experiences that came with being a father.

I changed diapers because they needed to be changed and I don’t think I complained about it much (though that could be denial on my part). Thinking back to my discussion on responsibility, I wasn’t changing diapers out of shame or obligation. I never resented doing it, I simply saw it as something that had to be done.

Did that mean I loved it? Nope. It may have been my children and an important part of the experience of being a new dad. But at the end of the day, it’s still poo.


So what does this have to do with unconditional love? It seems easy to say that you don’t have to love poo, no matter how cute the posterior that it comes from. But the same can be said for personality traits or behaviors. My kids are little and they aren’t finished products. They still have tantrums, and are still learning to understand and control their emotions. As any parent can attest, those times aren’t always fun. In fact, being a parent can be difficult and frustrating at times. I love my children. Does that mean I need to love all their behaviors? No.

Actually, because I love them it means I should recognize when their behavior is problematic and I should work with them to try and improve that. I want them to be the best people they can and give them the best opportunity for a happy future. Giving into tantrums and allowing them to get away with unacceptable behavior won’t do that, and will actually do harm to them in the long run.

My children are dependent on me, but that’s not why I want the best for them. I want the best for them because I love them, unconditionally. The same rules apply for family, friends, and also our chosen partners.

Loving them unconditionally doesn’t mean you need to love everything about them. There can be things about our partners that we wish were different, and that’s alright. Unconditional love simply means that you accept them as they are, accepting both the good and the bad.


I will argue that the “all or nothing” view of love is actually a selfish form of love. If loving someone means you have to love all of them, and any problems means it isn’t true love then you are actually saying you will only love someone when it works for you. You will only love someone when times are good (because if times aren’t good there is a problem, and therefore it was never true love).

Unconditional love involves loving someone even when times are difficult. It means being supportive of the other person, but at the same time being honest with them, even when the truth might not be what they want to hear.

Love vs. Relationships

I believe in love, and I believe love should be unconditional. But what about our romantic relationships? Are they solely based on unconditional love?

Let’s say you meet someone and fall in love with them, but they don’t feel the same way. Is that a relationship? No. You may love them and accept them for who they are. You may think of them all the time and have pictures of them in your house, wallet, at work whatever. But if they don’t feel the same way about you, then that’s just creepy (and probably puts you at risk of a restraining order).

If you believe you are in a relationship but the other person sees you as one of the many people they are dating, sorry, again it’s not a relationships.

It doesn’t become a relationship until they return the love, and there is an acknowledgement that the two of you share something together and you are committed to each other. So although love may be unconditional, relationships aren’t. Relationships do have expectations, and some degree of reciprocity is required.

Lets take this idea one step further….

Let’s say you are in a relationship, and the other person checks out emotionally. They stop doing the little things, they stop showing you that they care. You become two people, effectively living individual lives. If that happens, are you in a relationship? It doesn’t matter if there’s a piece of paper saying you are married, or you are living together. Even if one person still loves the other with all their heart, the relationship has effectively ended. Relationships require reciprocity. They are about intent, and effort.

One Sided Love

Now if unconditional love means you will always love the other person, does it mean you will always be there for them?

I believe very strongly in love and in relationships. I believe many relationships fail unnecessarily, and that with a bit of effort most relationships can be saved. So this is difficult for me to say, but I believe the answer is no. Unconditional love does not always mean you will be there.

I have heard countless stories of people who treat their partners poorly (either through active abuse or simply checking out on them emotionally), and then are surprised when their partner eventually decides to leave the relationship. Often this shock is accompanied by a sense of outrage. How could this person leave me? I thought that they loved me?

Some people think that someone “loving them” gives them a green light to do what they want. They feel safe that the other person is committed to them and they will always be there no matter what.


Loving someone doesn’t mean you will put up with anything. Love has to go both ways. If someone says they love you, but don’t back up that claim with their actions then what do you really have? At that point you have nothing.

It doesn’t matter how strongly you feel about someone, if it’s not reciprocated you don’t have a relationship. People have bad days, and people make mistakes; so I’m not saying that the relationship has ended the first time someone gets angry. People run into issues, and you need to be willing to work on them together.

But if someone is consistently treating you poorly, or the relationship becomes very one sided where your love is not reciprocated, then staying with them is not love. It’s enabling them. It’s telling them that the way they are treating you is alright.

No. Sometimes unconditional love means knowing when to walk away. It doesn’t mean you love them any less, but that’s different from always being there.

Meant to Be

All or nothing thinking is broken, and destructive to relationships. There is no such thing as perfect. There is no such thing as loving all of someone. Everyone has bad days. Everyone has their flaws.

There is no “meant to be”. Life gives us opportunities, and it is up to us to decide what we want to do with them. Some embrace the opportunities life gives them, and others squander them.


If you want a strong relationship, you need to build that strength into it. You build that strength with kindness, caring, affection, and effort. And you need to build it together.

What’s in it for Me?


Humans are naturally social creatures, both craving and needing relationships of all types. Our relationships are a fundamental part of who we are, yet we get no formal training on them. Instead we learn about them through a combination of observation and trial and error. Unfortunately, there is often a great emphasis on error.

Some of us are able to form healthy attachments and go on to have largely happy romantic relationships. Others form relationship that are toxic to one or both parties, and others end up largely alone. However I think the vast majority of us have relationships that are good, containing a reasonable degree of happiness – but they could be better. So how do we improve them?

People talk about chemistry, and incompatibilities between personalities. But increasingly I am convinced that the success of someone’s personal relationships is more a reflection on them, and how they have learned to form emotional attachments.

In a recent post I talked about how emotional intimacy is built and emotional attachments are formed. Emotional attachment is a funny thing though. Although it is hard wired into our DNA it’s safe to say we don’t all form healthy emotional attachments.

How it Starts

According to Attachment Theory, your ability to form emotional attachments is significantly impacted by your first emotional attachments when you were a baby. From Wikipedia:

The most important tenet of attachment theory is that an infant needs to develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver for the child’s successful social and emotional development, and in particular for learning how to effectively regulate their feelings.

Let’s take a look at two diagrams:

unhealthy 1

healthy 2

Attachment starts with need. As infants we have needs that our primary caregiver tries to meet. When they are met we are content. When they are consistently met we start to form trust and attachment. But our needs aren’t always met, and when they aren’t it results in fear, anxiety and stress.

With healthy attachment we learn that our needs not being met doesn’t indicate a lack of care or love. Further, we learn that not all needs will be met, and that’s alright. In unhealthy attachment however, not having our needs met continues to results in stress, anxiety and fear.

Neglecting your child is the fastest path to damaging their ability to make healthy attachments. If their needs are never met, they will not be able to develop trust and care. But attachment theory says it is boundaries that allow a child to develop attachment in a healthy way.

At the other end of the spectrum is spoiling them. If they are used to having their needs always met (or met at an unrealistic level) it can create a sense of expectation and entitlement, also harming their ability to form healthy attachments.

As parents we often want to provide everything for our children. But as this illustrates, when we do too much we risk doing more harm than good. We need to set boundaries, and allow our children to develop independence in order for them to develop in a healthy fashion.

Healthy Attachment

In attachment theory, the two most damaging traits for forming healthy attachments are anxiety and avoidance.


Anxiety is often seen as the fear of the unknown. It is a fear of what “could” happen, and is largely an overreaction of the fear instinct. Anxious people are often expecting the worst case scenario to happen in any situation. Avoidance is keeping away or withdrawing from something, often due to a fear of a perceived negative result.

Both traits are very damaging to relationships. Relationships are based on trust and security, which requires communication. Avoidance leads to poor communication and an inability to address the regular issues that a relationship will face. Anxiety is also very destructive to relationships. For a great summary on how it can impact love check this article. But at a high level anxiety can erode empathy and damage trust.

Attachment Styles

Attachment Theory has identified a number of attachment styles related to people’s levels of anxiety and avoidance. I’ve seen different versions of the styles, but the following chart outlines a few with some of their characteristics:


Looking at this chart, it’s obvious that secure attachment is the “healthy” form of attachment. As noted however, we don’t all develop in a healthy fashion.

Avoidant Attachment is the most common unhealthy attachment. People with high levels of avoidance tend to have issues with intimacy in close relationships, and do not invest themselves emotionally. Interestingly, they often crave closeness and intimacy, but they need to be in control. Once people start to get too close they start to shut them out.

This often leads to a feeling of instability in relationships. The avoidant person wants closeness, but it makes them feel overwhelmed leading them to withdraw. When they feel more secure they will look for closeness again, but they look for it on their terms.

Ambivalent Attachment is less common. Here people are reluctant to get close to others due to fear that their partner doesn’t feel the same way about them.

It’s important to note that these styles and their tendencies are not absolutes. We all have some level of avoidance and anxiety, and your levels determines where you fall on these spectrums. For example, I would like to think that I have a fairly secure attachment style (wishful thinking perhaps). But while I generally have low anxiety levels, I know I lean slightly towards avoidance when it comes to dealing with conflict.

You may be a certain way, and behavioral psychologists believe that your “go to” style is largely a result of your early years. So if you think you’re a bit messed up and you want to blame your parents? Yeah, it probably is actually their fault.

But one important thing is it is possible to change the mindsets that lead to unhealthy attachment and move more towards secure forms of attachment. Your attachment style CAN change. So even if you do want to blame mommy and daddy for who you are today, it’s up to you who you want to be tomorrow.

Building Empathy

When you look at attachment one of the things that stands out to me is in both healthy and unhealthy emotional attachment, it’s all about you and your needs. What about other people?

Somewhere along the way we have to learn that we aren’t the only ones who matter. We need to learn that the world doesn’t revolve around us. In order to have successful relationships, the needs of the other person also need to matter to us. A world of “me” needs to become a world of “we”. Learning to value the needs of others and place them at a level at or near our own is one of the characteristics of empathy.

When we aren’t being empathetic or we are focusing primarily on ourselves and our needs, we are exhibiting narcissistic behavior.

Lack of empathy is the most notable characteristic of narcissism. Additional characteristics include a sense of entitlement, a focus on how things appear to other people (things need to be perfect) and a need for admiration or external validation.

For narcissists, relationships are vehicles for them and their needs. They will put effort into the relationship as long as their own needs are met, but it is never an equal exchange, and it is never done out of genuine care and concern for the other person.

Noted researcher (and sufferer) on Narcissism Sam Vaknin writes:

I am aware of the fact that others have emotions, needs, preferences, and priorities – but I simply can’t seem to “get it into my mind.” There is an invisible partition behind which I watch the rest of Mankind and through which nothing that is human can permeate.

To me, all people are cardboard cut-outs, sophisticated motor contraptions, ersatz and robotic. I know how I should feel because I am well-read–but I cannot seem to bring myself to emote and to sympathize.

Over the years, I have deciphered the code. I have learned to imitate and emulate expertly the more common affect and expressions of one’s inner landscape. But this veneer is easily breached when I am frustrated or humiliated: the mask slips and the real Me is out: a predator on the prowl.

This is an extreme example. The true narcissistic personality type is rare (occurring in approx 6% of the population). In reality we all have some elements of narcissism within us, and when times are tough it’s common for people to just “look out for themselves”. In periods of stress or personal problems our ability to be empathetic often decreases. But the ability to be empathetic towards our partners on a consistent basis (even when times are tough) is the key characteristic that determines the quality of our interpersonal relationships.


Empathy is the most important characteristic of any close relationship, and particularly in our romantic relationships. Unfortunately we don’t all learn this, or perhaps it’s better to say we learn it to varying degrees. But no matter what your level of empathy is, it can be improved.

Focusing on Others

In relationships, we all want to be valued. We all want to be loved, desired, and appreciated for who we are. If we want that, it’s safe to assume our partner wants and needs that too.

Is thinking about yourself being selfish? No, not at all. We need to think about ourselves and take care of ourselves. However thinking of yourself to the exclusion of others is a problem.

For our relationships to survive we need to value our partners, and their needs must be important to us. For our relationships to thrive, we need to place our partners needs at the same level as ours (or at least very close). We need to understand that love means compromise. Things won’t always be the way we want, and they won’t always be the way our spouse wants. We need to be willing to work together towards a common good that benefits both.

In nature, when two organisms work together for common benefit it is referred to as a symbiotic relationship. When the benefits are very one sided, it is referred to as a parasitic relationship.

If you are unhappy in your relationship, ask yourself why. Does your relationship add value to your life? Are your needs being met? Now ask yourself if you are adding value to your partners life. Are their needs being met?

All relationships go through ups and downs. But overall your relationship should be something that adds value to both your life and that of your partner.

If it isn’t, take a look at how you approach the relationship. Empathy can be worked on and developed. Remember, it’s not about your needs. It’s about finding the way to best meet the needs of the couple, so that both are feeling valued and fulfilled. Working on improving and sustaining empathy is one of the best ways to improve your relationship and have a happier future.