Lessons from the Past

letter

In the last year plus I’ve found myself single again for the first time in almost twenty years.

When I last was in the dating world I was in my early 20’s; and although I was legally an adult (and thought of myself as mature), looking back I was nothing more than a kid. I didn’t really know very much about life, relationships, or even myself for that matter.

People often imagine what they would do differently if they could go back in time with the knowledge they have gained since. How would they approach life differently with the benefit of that knowledge?

Well, I kind of have that opportunity now.

I can’t go back and do things differently. However I *do* have an opportunity in front of me to take the knowledge I have learned and try to apply it. To try to have the best future I can possibly have.

Even still, todays’ post is about that idea of going back in time. If I *could* write a letter to the younger me, what would it look like?

Although I know I can’t go back, I do have two children who will probably be starting relationships of their own in the next few years. Yeah, I know that they will have to go through their own experiences and learn in their own way. That’s a necessary (and often painful) part of personal growth.

But if I could share knowledge and experience, what would I tell them?

What would I tell myself?

Hey there, it’s me.

So you’re starting to notice women, or girls I guess (given your age). Yeah yeah, I know. You really don’t want to talk about this kind of stuff with me. I get that. But still, there are some things I want to tell you that may make life a bit easier for you, if you’re willing to listen.

You’re probably not even thinking about the word “relationship”. You’re probably more focused on the fact that you’re feeling an attraction towards someone. Maybe it’s her smile, her laugh, the sparkle in her eyes, her body.

Maybe it’s just the way you feel when you’re around her.

You want to spend time with her, and learn about her. And you hope that she’s thinking and feeling some of the same thing you are.

If she is? Well, hanging out becomes dating, and you find yourself building some form of a relationship. It will go through different stages and different levels of seriousness, but it’s still a relationship.

It’s human nature for us to seek relationships with other people. Family, friends, and of course romantic relationships. These relationships help give us a sense of connection and belonging.

It’s important to realize however that the most important relationship you will ever have is the one you have with yourself.

I really can’t overstate how important this is.

You need to know who you are, and what you want out of life. I get that you’re a kid, and you probably have no clue what I’m talking about. And really, it’s unfair of me to expect you to know who you are at this age. Honestly you’ll probably spend the rest of your life trying to figure that out. It doesn’t matter how old we are, we are always changing and always growing.

I guess the important part is, always accept yourself for who you are.

Right now.

Today.

Don’t worry about what you “are not”. Or about the things other people can do that you can’t.

You’re you, and the only person you should ever be competing with is yourself. Just try and be the best version of yourself that you can be.

Believe in yourself, and know that you can do anything you set your heart to. And on the days that you’re struggling to believe in yourself (cause those days WILL happen), know that I believe in you.

This relationship you have with yourself is SO important, because we teach others how to treat us. We show them our worth by how we value ourselves. And how can we ever expect someone else to treat us well, never mind love us, if we don’t love ourselves first?

It’s a process, I get that. And it can take years to truly be comfortable with who you are. In the meantime, when thinking about relationships with other people here are a few pointers…

It’s really easy to want to impress someone, and I’m sure you’ll do that to some degree. But the best thing you can do is to be yourself. Be authentic. Let the other person see you for who you are, flaws and all. Cause let’s face it, we all have them.

So many relationships fail because someone is trying to be what they think the other person wants. Trying to be someone they aren’t.

That really doesn’t help you.

It’s better that someone see’s you for who you are instead of seeing you for who you are pretending to be. What good does it do you to get someone to fall for a you that doesn’t really exist? Eventually you’ll start to resent doing that, or you’ll have to be you. And if they don’t like that when they see you? Well, I hate to say it but will be your own fault. So you may as well just be honest from the beginning.

And guess what, you need to be able to accept them for who they are too. Don’t look at them as someone who would be great if they would just change a few things. You can’t change people, and you shouldn’t try. If you can’t accept them for who they are, then they aren’t the right person for you.

In addition to being authentic, be vulnerable. Be willing to let people in, and be willing to show them emotion. Let them see and feel the things you care about, the things you are passionate about. That can be really hard for us, because as guys we’re often taught to hide our emotions and taught that it’s weakness to show them. That’s a load of crap. Women, men, it doesn’t matter. We are all emotional beings, and we need to be able to accept our emotions. I’m not talking about being an emotional basket case, cause that just means you can’t self-regulate. But you need to be able to let people in.

You might get hurt. In fact, I’m pretty sure you will.

That’s alright though, it’s part of it. Over time, the people closest to us will hurt us. It’s up to us to determine how we handle that hurt.

One of the things we are rarely taught is how to deal with conflict. Often conflict is seen as this terrible thing, and if you have conflict it becomes a sign that something is wrong.

That thinking is so incredibly damaging, and wrong.

People are different, with different experiences and beliefs. And conflict is just a natural result of these differences. Instead of seeing it as a bad thing, think of it as a way to get a deeper understanding (and hopefully acceptance) of the other person.

Conflict in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. It’s how we deal with conflict (or not deal with it in some cases) that can potentially be a bad thing.

Do we assume that anything different from our beliefs is wrong, or inferior to our beliefs? Are we willing to communicate the things that bother us, or do we keep it in and let it fester? Do we learn and move forward, or do we hold onto the past and refuse to let it go?

If we can’t learn to let things go, we’re in for a lifetime of unhappiness and resentment. The past has already happened, and it can’t be changed. All we can do is apply the lessons the past has taught us to building a better future.

That’s not to say we should just accept and put up with anything – another concept that is really important to learn is boundaries.

Personal boundaries are really important to determine. Basically, what truly matters to you? What is acceptable and what it not acceptable to you. Learning this is a process that can take a lifetime, as we often don’t even know what our boundaries are until they have been violated.

When they are violated, defending our own personal boundaries is about calling people out and telling them “hey, you did/said this and this is how it made me feel.” As I said earlier, we teach people how they can treat us. So defining our boundaries and enforcing them is about making the people around us understand what is acceptable and what is not. If our boundaries are constantly violated and we do nothing about it, we are teaching people that how they are treating us is actually alright.

To defend our boundaries we may have to walk away and reduce our exposure to that person, or even remove them from our life completely. It’s not easy, but sometimes it’s the only way.

Lets say you can do all that, and find yourself in a relationship with someone where things are going great…

When you get to that point, I want you to be conscious of something called hedonic adaptation. I know, it has a crazy name. But really, it’s probably one of the most important concepts you’ll ever come to understand.

I also think it’s one of the biggest killers of relationships.

So what the heck is it?

Think about a time you’ve been excited to get something, and you finally do. Even if it’s awesome at first, over time you stop appreciating it for how awesome it is – because you have it now. It’s yours. So those awesome qualities/features/whatever just become its regular features. And over time, because you get used to having those features you stop noticing them and instead you start noticing the things that are missing.

That’s hedonic adaptation.

It’s part of our psychology, where we are basically hard wired to start taking things for granted once they become our norm. And it applies to everything. New job, car, apartment, cool new gadgets…

And yes, relationships.

It doesn’t matter how amazing the person you are with is. Over the long term you WILL start to take her for granted. You will stop noticing all the little things that make her special to you. Because once you’re around her enough, it’s just her. It’s who she is. Nothing can be “new” forever, and we tend to stop appreciating what we already have.

As I said, I think this is probably the biggest killer of relationships out there. This probably doesn’t make any sense to you because you’re thinking “no way, this girl I’m interested in is amazing”. I’m sure she is. So my suggestion to you is, keep that in your heart and in your head.

Be conscious of it.

Think about it.

And on those days when things aren’t going great and you’re having issues, focus on what is it you like about her. Focus on why you wanted to be with her in the first place.

The only way to fight against this natural tendency to take things for granted is to practice active appreciation. Focus on the good, not the bad. I’m not saying ignore the bad, as I’m sure there will be some. Work on that, and have your boundaries. But don’t let it cause you to lose sight of the good.

And remember, she’ll be doing this (taking you for granted) too.

For some people, once they stop seeing the good they start looking for something new. If that happens and they need to be chased, let them go. Because they’re looking for excitement, and you’ll never be enough.

So I guess that’s my advice to you. Those are my lessons:

Accept yourself. Be authentic. Be willing to be vulnerable. Accept conflict as natural and learn to work through things. Understand and enforce your own boundaries. And last but not least, learn to appreciate what you have, each and every day.

Beyond that? Smile, laugh, and love.

Nothing in life is guaranteed, but I think doing those things will give you the best shot at something great.

And really, that’s all we can ask for.

Advertisements

The Identity Gap

success-a

Identity is a big topic for me in my writing.  Who are you?  Who am I?  How well do we really understand ourselves as a person, and perhaps more importantly, how well do we accept ourselves?

Along this lines, one idea I’ve had rolling around in my head for a while is the idea of an “identity gap”.

To me, an identity gap is the gap between who we ARE and who we WANT TO BE.

 

Related to my post on fantasy, we all have an idealized version of self; this picture of who we wish we were, and how we wish our life looked.  This ideal is related to our dreams, and may be influenced by the things we see around us or the expectations that were placed on us growing up.

 

However this is just an ideal, and I don’t think ANYONE is their idealized version of “self”.  And for that matter, I don’t think anyone ever achieves it.

This concept of an identity gap has huge implications for the level of happiness a person has in their life.  And I think this happiness is directly related to three questions:

  1. How big is the gap between who you want to be and who you are?
  2. Do you accept that your idealized version of self is simply an ideal, and not reality?
  3. What are you doing to improve yourself and close the gap between who you are and who you want to be?

 

What is your Ideal Self?

This is a tough question to answer.  But I guess another way of look at it is, when you were a teenager who did you think you would be?  What did you think it actually meant to be an adult?

This is an area where man oh man, I think a lot of us screw up something fierce.

On one hand, we have all these adults all around us modelling what life as an adult looks like.  So you would think we would actually learn something from that.

On the other hand, we have tv shows, and advertising telling us how amazing we are, and how special we are, and how we “deserve the best”.

I’m not sure about this, but I suspect that even when all the evidence around us is telling us life as an adult is pretty mundane, there’s also a part of that expects life to look like a beer commercial.

 

I don’t think many teenagers/college students take a look at their parents and say “yup, that’s who I’m going to be when I grow up”.

For some reason we think we are different, and special, so of course our life will be different.  We will set goals, and achieve all of our wildest dreams.

 

A few posts back used a line I found:

What screws us up most in life is the picture in our head of how it’s supposed to be.

That line seems simple at first, but it’s also one of the most profound things I’ve ever read.

How things are “supposed to be”.

What life is “supposed” to look like.

What “love” is supposed to look like.

Who we are “supposed” to be.

 

I’m reminder of a scene from movie Boyhood.  It’s kind of a bizarre film, as it doesn’t really follow a traditional mold; but it’s also really powerful.  It was filmed over 12 years, and during the film you actually see the characters age and grow up.

In it Patricia Arquette starts out as a young mother with little education.  And during the 12 years of the film her children grow up, she is married and divorced twice, and gains an education and becomes a college professor (I think).

Late in the film there’s a scene where her son is leaving for college and she breaks down.  She reflects on all the things that have happened in her life, all the things she has done and accomplished.  And then she says:

I just thought there would be more.

 

I just thought there would be more.

Life hasn’t matched up to the picture she had in her head.  There was an identity gap, and when comparing reality to ideal, life ended up being a disappointment.

 

I think this happens often.

For some reason we expect “more”.  And real life isn’t able to measure up.

In our society right now, depression rates are up.  Anxiety rates are up.  People talk about happiness as if it’s this magical thing that they can achieve.  This goal in life that will make everything better.

So how do we make this better?

 

An Ideal is a Dream

I think one of the first things we need to do is accept that our ideal is simply something to strive towards, and not something we are likely to ever achieve.

And that’s alright.

We are all just “regular” people.  We aren’t any better than anyone else, and we do not deserve special treatment.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t have goals – because we should.  We need them, as goals give us something to strive towards.

Instead of just looking at our imaginary end state, we need to be able to set small milestones or goals, and celebrate the little successes we have along the way.

Because sometimes our ideal isn’t actually realistic.

So we shouldn’t measure our success in life against it’s end state.  We need to be able to look at where we are now, and appreciate it each and every day.

 

How are you Trying to Improve?

Let’s say I want to make a fence.  What do I need to do?

Does it help me to wake up everyday, look in my yard and think “man, I wish I had a fence”?

Ummm, no so much.

How about if I buy some wood and some screws, and put them in my yard and just leave them there?

I suppose that gets me a bit closer, but again, it’s not very helpful.

 

Instead, a few things need to happen.

  • First I need to understand where I am today.
  • Next I need to understand where I want to be.
  • Then I need a plan to get from point A to point B.
  • Lastly (and perhaps most importantly) I need initiative. I need to be willing to do something about it.

 

So everything starts with accepting yourself for who you are TODAY.

We all have strengths and weaknesses, good sides and bad sides.  And until we accept ourselves for who we are today (warts and all), we can never move forward or improve.  We are never able to live in the present moment, and able to appreciate the life we DO have.

When people are focused on their identity gap, they are focused on who they are not instead of who they are. And when THAT is the focus?  If someone is focused on what they are missing or who they are not, I don’t think they will ever be happy.  Because it doesn’t matter how much you improve, you can always get better.  And people who are focused on what they are not are unable to live in the moment and appreciate the things they DO have.

So any improvements need to first start with self acceptance.

changeparadox

 

Once you have accepted who you are today, you are now in a position to better understand the gap between where you are and where you want to be.

Ironically, once you have accepted yourself it may not matter as much.

Because although we can always be “more”, when we have accepted ourselves we know we are “enough”.

The “Easy Road”

easy-street_header

My last post was about living in fantasy land, and how dating and affairs are really a form of escapism.  They aren’t real love, and they aren’t even real life.

And I think sometimes problems can occur when people get confused about what “real life” actually is.

When people have online profiles (like facebook), they only present the things they want you to see.  It’s usually a “sanitized” version of their life.  They show the good parts, the celebrations, the parties, the trips.  If you looked only at peoples profiles, you would think they all had the perfect life, where everything was happy all the time and there were never any problems.

But that’s not what life really looks like.  Real life isn’t just the image of ourselves we portray.  It’s not the like the movies, and it’s not about escapism.

Real life can be messy.  It has highs and lows, and it requires us to face challenges and overcome them.

 

Looking for Fun

In the comments section of my last post, commenter wordsaremylife wrote (about her husband leaving):

my father summed it up perfectly, “He wants to be a college kid again. Fun without responsibility.”

 

This is a common thread in almost every story of a failed marriage or an affair.  Someone eventually seems to come to the conclusion that a marriage is just too much like work, and for some reason they believe it should be different.

They seem to think:

  • Life should be easy.
  • Love should be easy.

So many people seem to want life to come with an easy button, and when they find it doesn’t because things have gotten difficult?

They quit.

They walk out, and go in search of something simpler.

In search of fun, without responsibility.

Because it’s easier to walk out than to work on improving what you already have.

Thing is, often what they are walking out on is simply “real life”, and they are leaving it in pursuit of something that doesn’t actually exist.

 

Accepting Responsibility

I’ll be the first to admit that people often get so caught up in the “responsibility” side of life that they forget to have fun.  And when you ARE caught up in responsibility, it can be overwhelming.

But quitting is not the answer.  Escaping is not the answer.

Here’s a few important things that often get overlooked:

  • Life isn’t always easy.
  • Life doesn’t always work out the way you expect it to.
  • Life doesn’t mean you have to be happy all the time.
  • Life is not all about you!!!
  • Responsibility isn’t a bad thing.

Not only is responsibility not a bad thing, I actually think it’s a great thing.  Being able to be responsible, and take responsibility for things means you are taking ownership of your own life.  And what could be better than that?

Responsibility means you aren’t a victim. 

Things happen in life, sometimes good and sometimes bad.  And usually we have no control over those things.

But we ALWAYS have control over ourselves, and how we react.  How we respond.

That is something that is always up to us.

We choose what situations we put ourselves into, and we choose how to respond to those situations.

 

Putting in Effort

If you’re an adult (legally, if not mentally) you have bills.  So I’m pretty sure you have a job too.

I’ve had a number of jobs over the years, and in all the time I’ve held a job I have yet to find one that doesn’t expect anything of me.

I’ve yet to see a job description that says something like “We will pay you a fantastic salary to do things the way YOU want.  You can come and go as you please, with no real duties and no expectations on you.”

*Maybe* jobs like that exist.  I kind of doubt it though.  If they do, I’ll guess there aren’t very many of them and they’re probably in high demand.

No, generally the jobs that pay more also have higher expectations and responsibilities.  That’s kind of the way it works.

With most things in life, if you want to get more out of something you need to be willing to put more in.

Putting in effort in everything in life is key to maximizing what you get out of it.

This is why I can’t understand the mentality of people who are looking for the easy road in life.  People who are looking for fun without responsibility.  And people who just quit and walk away when things get hard.

If everything is supposed to be easy, where is the sense of accomplishment?  Where is the sense of ownership in having built something that matters?

 

I’m not saying people should NEVER quit.  Because there comes a point in time where you have to accept that things aren’t working, and you have to be willing to go in a different direction.

But I am saying there’s a HUGE different between putting everything you have into something, and being able to accept when it doesn’t work, vs quitting when things get hard or when things make you uncomfortable.

 

The Color Red

Years ago I took some philosophy classes in university.  University was a long time ago, so I don’t remember much; but periodically bits of Philosophy classes pop up in my head.

One of my classes was Epistemology (the study of knowledge), and in it I remember my prof presenting a hypothetical world where everything was red.

Paraphrasing here, he asked us:

“in a world where everything was red, would you be able to see the color red?  Would you even be able to conceive of it?”

That’s always stuck with me, and I think it’s especially relevant here.

Life isn’t always easy, and not only is that alright – it’s also NECESSARY.

We need to experience good AND bad, pleasure AND pain.  It’s the opposite side of the spectrum that allows us to appreciate the differences in life.

 

When people are looking for the “easy road”, they are trying to avoid the parts of life that make them uncomfortable.  Fun, without the responsibility.  Which is similar to pleasure, without the pain.  Or love, without the sacrifice.

 

But that’s not the way life works.

One of the more formative books I’ve read in recent years is Brene Browns “The Gifts of Imperfection”.  And beyond the discussion of trying to live an authentic life, one of the most important moments in it is when she talks about numbing behaviors.

We all have issues, and we all have pain to deal with in our lives.  But if you’re looking for the easy road, it’s because you want to avoid that pain.  So people turn to different things in order to numb the pain.  Drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex (affairs can be big ones), there are a number of numbing behaviors people will use.

But all of these are just escapes, and they don’t deal with the actual problems.  Because as Brene Brown says, we cannot selectively numb emotions. When we numb the painful emotions, we also number the positive emotions.

Fun without responsibility, pleasure without pain?  These aren’t sustainable.  They are short term “fixes” that do more harm than good.

 

The Keys To “Real Life”

Real life is complicated, and messy.  In real life we can’t selectively choose what we want to deal with and what we want to avoid.

But this also makes real life wonderful.

Earlier I mentioned that it’s the opposite side of the spectrum that allows us to appreciate the differences in life.

The key word there is APPRECIATE.

 

In real life, we need to be able to appreciate what we have, and not just look at what we are missing.  In fact, practicing active appreciation is probably one of the most important things you can ever learn to do.

 

People who can’t appreciate what they have tend to be chronically unhappy, while people who practice active appreciation tend to be happy, or at least content in life.

Active appreciation means living in the moment.  And when I say that I don’t mean being a selfish hedonistic a$$hole.  It means looking around you at what is REALLY important.

I guess that means different things to different people, but to me that means family and friends.  It means trying to do the right things and live with integrity.  It means facing issues instead of avoiding them.  It means BUILDING something instead of just using something.  And it means trying to appreciate what I DO have in my life instead of focusing on what is missing.

 

That doesn’t mean things are always good or I’ll get what I want.  And that doesn’t mean I’m always going to be happy.  But it means I can always put forth effort, and influence my situation in a positive way.

easyroad

Love and Connection

broken mask

In my last post I talked about connection, and how connection requires you to be able to be in the moment.

Increasingly I think connection is what we are all looking for.  In family, in friendships, and especially in romantic relationships, connection is the key that binds us together.  Brene Brown describes connection as:

connectionquote

 

Connection is intangible; but at the same time you know when it’s there and you know when it’s missing.  We all want connection, and because humans are social animals I think it’s just as much of a need as food and shelter.

Intimacy (closeness) and love, these are all about connection.

 

Learning about Love

Growing up, we are taught the wrong things about love.  I realize I’m stereotyping here (so feel free to ignore this if you disagree), but little girls seem to be taught that love is all about passion and romance – flowers, kisses and hearts that pound at the sight of the other person.  And many women seem to internalize this, and come to believe that’s what love is.  Intensity.  Passion.

In fact, I recently saw a blog post talking about how the author wants her love to be like a hurricane.  Passionate, and furious.

And I get that in a way.

But hurricane’s tend to not last very long.  They burn out quickly, and leave a lot of damage in their wake.

 

Boys?  I’m not sure if we are really taught anything about love.  We see the same stories about love that the girls see, but we are never really taught that love should be a goal, or something to strive for the way girls are (it’s pretty common to see little girls dressing up as a bride for Halloween – but how often do you see a little boy dressing up as a groom).

For us love seems to start as more of a physical/hormonal response, as we’re often oblivious to girls until one day we realize “damn, she’s pretty hot”.  Maybe because of this, for many of us it seems we come to associate sex with love.

I think this is why you hear that women need to feel connection in order to have sex, while men need to be having sex in order to feel connected.  And this fundamental difference in how we think (due to how we have been taught) is the source of a ton of problems.

 

In any case, I think we both learn the wrong things.  We are learning about the early phases of love, and thinking that’s what love actually is.

At its core though, I think we’re all really looking for connection.

We all want to find someone we feel connected to.  We feel safe with, we feel we can be ourselves, and they will hear us, and respect us, and value us.  And we’ll want to do the same for them.  Connection is what is truly important.

 

The Problem with Connection

As much as we really strive for connection however, many people are afraid of it.

Because real connection requires vulnerability, it requires letting someone else in.

And that can be scary as hell.

 

Many of us, and perhaps most of us, struggle with letting other people in.

True connection requires allowing someone else to see all of you – the good sides and our darker sides, the parts of us that we hide from other.  And it requires allowing that other person to love us anyways.

Allowing.

My wording here is very deliberate.

As people, we often sabotage ourselves because we are afraid.

Afraid of rejection.  Afraid that we aren’t enough.  We don’t accept ourselves, and love ourselves enough.  And if we can’t even love ourselves, then how is someone else ever going to love us?

So we hold back, and we build walls.  We try to only ever let the other person see the parts of us that we want them to see.  We build these walls subconsciously with the intent of protecting ourselves from being hurt.

In doing so, we don’t allow that other person the opportunity to truly know us.  We don’t give them the chance to accept us for all of us, good and bad.

We’re scared they won’t, so we don’t give them the opportunity.

And in the process we ensure that we will never have the connection that we truly crave.

deadinside

Emotional Disconnection

We all limit how close we let people get to us.  We all have things that we hide from both ourselves and others.

In fact I’m not sure if it’s even possible to let the other person in 100%, as doing so would require a level of self-awareness that most of will never achieve.

But for emotionally healthy relationships, we have to be in a situation where both parties are able to let the other person in and feel safe doing so.

Emotional disconnection happens when people won’t let others in.  They will have healthy relationships on the surface, but will hide their feelings and not allow someone to get too close.

Sometimes this happens due to upbringing and a person’s attachment style, but it can also be brought about due to problems with depression or anxiety.

Both depression and anxiety can cause anhedonia, a state where a person feels as though they have no emotions, positive or negative.  For sufferers of anhedonia there is an absence of emotion and they often feel dead inside.  Sufferers do still feel some emotions, but they are primarily negative emotions or a pervasive sense of sadness.  Positive emotions are not felt very strongly, and they find it hard to feel happiness.

During these dead or flat periods, external relationships frequently suffer, as connection breaks down.

Calmclinic.com describes this as follows:

Emotional detachment is usually an issue caused by severe, intense anxiety – most notably panic attacks, although any form of severe anxiety can cause emotional detachment.

While it’s not entirely clear what causes this detachment, it most likely is a coping mechanism for the brain. Severe emotions are not only mentally stressful – they’re also physically stressful, and your brain actually experiences very real stress and pressure that can be somewhat overwhelming.

So your brain may shut off or turn down those emotions, because dealing with no strong emotions at all may be easier for your brain to handle than intense emotions.

Also, don’t forget that your emotions really do change your brain chemistry. Sometimes those changes stick around for a while. Your anxiety may have caused your brain to produce less “positive emotion” neurotransmitters, which in turn causes you to experience emotional distance.

 

Allowing Love and Connection

We all need connection.  Without it, couples aren’t a “we” and instead are just two people occupying the same space.  Without connection, you aren’t able to truly share life, and experiences.

Connection however requires you to accept your emotions (good and bad), share them, and be vulnerable.  It doesn’t happen unless you allow it, and allow the other person in.

Without that there is no intimacy, and only a hollow, dispassionate version of love.

vulnerability

People are scared to be vulnerable because they are scared to be hurt.  Scared to be rejected.  And so they hold back – both consciously and subconsciously.

But all holding back does is limit your ability to connect with another person.

It’s true, people can’t hurt you if you don’t let them.  And allowing yourself to be vulnerable means you will be hurt sometimes, by those you love.

That’s part of life though, and you need to be willing to accept it as part of the tradeoff.

 

Given a choice between being vulnerable and allowing myself to be hurt, or walling myself off from potential hurt and instead feeling nothing, I know what I pick.  And really, it’s an easy choice.

Because without connection, you can’t really have love.

Why “Nice Guys” (and Girls) Finish Last

NiceGuyHeader

Nice guys finish last.  Girls like “bad boys”.  This is something all guys hear or think at one point in time or another.

We hear this often enough that guys are often led to believe we have to be cocky, act like jerks and treat women badly.  This idea is used in romance movies, which depict scenes of guys worrying about how long they should wait before calling someone, or how to show they are interested in someone without coming across as too interested.  Maybe they should play hard to get, or appear interested in someone else in order to try and make the person jealous.  We are taught that if we learn to “play the game” we will be able to get the girl we want.

And if we don’t get the girl we want?

Well, then we either don’t know how to play the game or it’s not really our fault.  It’s because we are “a nice guy”, and that’s not what she really wants.  After all, nice is boring, and she wants a bad boy.  So nice guys finish last.

 

Is this really true?  I guess there is some element of truth to it or the perception wouldn’t exist.  But do women really want to be treated like crap, or have guys treat relationships like some sort of game?

Disclaimer here – I’m not a woman so I really don’t know.  But for some reason I doubt it.

Maybe there are some women who do, but even if that WERE the case, as a guy would you really want to be with a woman who wants to be treated badly?  If a woman respects herself, why would she put up with that kind of treatment?  Does she believe she deserves it?  If so, why would any guy really want a woman who thinks that poorly of herself?

No, I don’t think it’s treating someone badly that matters.   Maybe I’m naive, but I think women do want to be treated with respect and kindness.

However they probably also want someone who is confident in themselves.  Someone who knows what their values and boundaries are, and is willing to establish and enforce them.

 

What Would You Do For Love?

Have you ever heard the saying “I would do anything for you”?

Sounds great right?  Sounds romantic?  Maybe it makes someone feel special, or important; and let’s face it – we all like to feel special and important.

But if you would do anything for the other person, what is that REALLY saying?

It’s saying that YOU don’t matter.  It’s saying that what the other person wants and needs is more important than your own wants and needs.

And that is really unhealthy.

This does actually happen in relationships.  People try to be what they think the other person wants instead of just being who they are.  And maybe they don’t actually know who they are, so they are trying to find that through someone else.

But to be in a healthy relationship you need to love and respect yourself first, because you matter too.

 

What do you want?

We are all driven by wants and needs, so what do you want?  What do you need as part of your relationship in order to be happy?  What is your primary love language?  What level of closeness are you looking for in your relationship?

How do you want to be treated, and more specifically what are some things that bother you, and are things that you simply can’t accept in a relationship?

These are things that are part of what makes you YOU, and they are independent of who you are with.  They would apply with any partner.

These are your boundaries, and they are important to your own sense of identity.

 

We don’t often think about what our boundaries are, and I suspect most people can’t articulate theirs.  At some level though we all have them and know them.  When we are hurt, or disappointed it is often because someone has violated or not respected our boundaries.

I think people who have a strong sense of identity have a better idea of what their boundaries are, and are more willing to enforce them (than people who don’t have a strong sense of identity).

And that’s the part where the stereotypical “nice guys” get it wrong.  They either don’t have strong boundaries, or they don’t value themselves enough to enforce them.  They want to be loved, and they want to be accepted (which I suppose we all do to some degree).  But “nice guys” are so eager to please someone else that will constantly put the other person’s needs ahead of their own.

 

But wait a minute…

Aren’t we supposed to give?  Aren’t we supposed to put our partner first?

Yeah, not so much.

I mean, we ARE, but not at our own expense (at least not consistently).  Instead of putting our partner first, I like to think of it as we should be putting them on the same level as ourselves.

Their needs and wants had damned well better matter to us.  At the same time though, their needs and wants don’t trump our boundaries.  For a healthy relationship, we need to find a way to make both of these things work together.

It makes sense in theory (to me anyhow), but in practice finding that balance can be very difficult.

 

What About Nice Girls?

If the negative connotations of being a nice guy come from someone trying to be what they think the other person wants (due to a lack of self-confidence, assertiveness and poor enforcement of boundaries), is this just a problem for guys?

Aren’t there women out there with the same issues?  If so, why do we hear about “nice guys finishing last” but we don’t often hear something similar about nice girls?

It seems clear that there are women out there with the same issues.  But “well, she’s nice” is usually guy-code for “she has a nice personality” aka “yeah she’s nice but I’m not attracted to her at all”.  So the issue there seems to be more one of attraction.  Maybe it is the same thing though, because a lack of confidence, boundaries and assertiveness really isn’t very attractive.

Perhaps another reason you don’t hear as much about “nice girls” is due to differences in the way guys and girls are raised.

Quick note – generally I don’t buy into gender differences (they exist, but I see them as more resulting from socialization than from any core differences).  Plus, I don’t believe anything can be painted with broad brush strokes – so I’ll think of this more as gender “trends” than actual differences.

That said, I think women are commonly raised with more of an expectation of being nurturers than men.  It doesn’t mean they necessarily lack self-confidence, but I do think women are likely to be less assertive and have more fluid boundaries.  They are more likely to make personal sacrifices “for the betterment of the relationship, or the family” than men – often to their own detriment.

Due to this, I suspect those traits are just as common with women as they are with men, but for some reason they are less likely to be seen as “a problem” with women.

 

Just Be Yourself

Personally, I think genuinely being a nice guy is largely a good thing.  It means you actually care about those around you.  But being someone who lacks self-confidence and either doesn’t know what their own personal boundaries are or doesn’t enforce them is unhealthy; as it means you don’t have a strong sense of self.

For any potential nice guys (and girls) out there, a few unsolicited words of advice:

No one wants a doormat.  Sure people want to be loved and supported, but I think people also want to be challenged.  And they want someone who is willing to call them out (nicely of course) when they are wrong.

Be yourself, whoever that is (and if you aren’t sure who you are, then that’s a bigger problem).  There’s really no point in trying to change yourself to be what you think someone else wants.  If someone doesn’t like you for who you are, how in the world does it help you to try and be what they want?  Because that means what they want isn’t actually you.

For a relationship to be successful you will ultimately need to grow and accept influence from the other person.  But if you are trying to be what you think the other person wants, the relationship is really being built on false pretenses.  Eventually you will grow resentful for having spent your time playing a role (though it will largely be your own fault).  And your partner may not be very appreciative when they find out your aren’t who you were portraying yourself as.

And lastly, remember that loving someone doesn’t mean doing anything for them.  Wanting to do things for someone else is great, but you matter too.  Know what your boundaries are, and be willing to enforce them.  Saying “no” sometimes doesn’t mean you love the other person any less.  It just means you love yourself more.

Your Most Important Relationship

When you think of all the roles we play in life, we have different relationships with many different people.

All these different relationships make up different facets of our life, and have varying degrees of importance. Often the most important relationships in our lives are the ones we have with our children, our partner, our parents/siblings and our closest friends.

These relationships are all important, and shape us in different ways. Because they all affect is, is it fair to say that any of them is more important than others? If you had to pick one relationship in your life and say it was the most important one, what would it be? Your partner? Your children?

In some ways it’s an impossible question. But at the same time, I do think there is only one correct answer.

The most important relationship you will ever have in your life is the one you have with…

You.

Who are You?

When thinking about relationships, the one we have with ourselves is often ignored. But it’s very important because it sets the tone for virtually everything in your life.

Think of the following:

    • How well do you know yourself?
    • How well do you understand yourself?
    • How honest are you with yourself on your strengths, weaknesses, and insecurities?
    • Do you love, and value yourself?
    • Do you believe in yourself?

In many ways I believe your success in life (however you define that) and even your own happiness depends on the answer to these questions.

In the past I’ve asked do you love yourself?, but in this post I want to approach this in a different way.

Knowing who you are, being honest with yourself about your strengths, weaknesses and insecurities but still accepting and loving yourself in spite of them is perhaps the most important thing you can do.

A Distorted Lens

One of my core beliefs is that we are the sum of our experiences. Everything we go through in life affects us. Sometimes in small ways, and other times in larger ways. And as a result of this, we are incapable of seeing things objectively. Everything we see is filtered through the lens of our own beliefs and experiences.

what we see

That’s not to say that the same experiences will affect two different people in the same way.

Take an affair for example. When people have affairs, common reasons are that they weren’t happy, or they were looking for something that was “missing” in their relationship (At least that’s what they say.  To their partners it usually seems like they are narcissists who don’t care if they hurt others in pursuit of their own hedonistic urges).

I’ll acknowledge that there are a narcissists out there, but I would like to think that for most affairs people really were unhappy and trying to fill a gap of some sort – just in a very selfish and unhealthy way.

However many people aren’t as happy as they could be, and feel they are missing things in their relationships – and they don’t all have affairs.

So what will cause one person to do this and another person not to?

Psychologists say that affairs (and other behaviors like this) aren’t really about what is wrong with the relationship or their partner. Sure, there are likely issues that contributed. But really they are all about the person who engages in the activity, and what they are lacking inside.

I truly believe this comes down to a person’s relationship with themselves. We often can’t control the things that happen to us in life. But we DO have control over how we respond to these things.

So when you accept yourself (flaws and all) and are at peace with who you are, you are better equipped to deal with adversity. When you can’t accept yourself, then you look for that acceptance through validation from others.

needingValidation

 

Self-Acceptance and Happiness

Why is this relevant? Because it has everything to do with your relationship with yourself.

When you can’t accept yourself for who you are and instead need to find validation of your worth from others, it leads to unhappiness. And when you can’t accept yourself, it is easy to look for reasons why you are unhappy.

But when someone is chronically unhappy it has more to do with them then it does with anything external.

We all have fears and insecurities, and it’s natural to build up walls and try to hide them.
To be truly happy and authentic to ourselves, we need to be willing to face the mirror and accept all of ourselves, both good and bad.

That’s not to say we have to accept the parts of ourselves that we don’t like. Change may not be easy, but it IS possible. However it’s impossible to change when we hide our insecurities and blame others for our own problems. It’s only when we can accept who we actually are that we can truly change.

ChangeParadox

 

Impacts on Relationships

I usually write about relationships, and I think the success or failure of relationships is greatly impacted by a persons identity, or sense of self.

The idea that you have to love yourself before you can love someone else is very true, as how you treat others is often a direct reflection of how you feel about yourself.

treatingothers

I have heard countless stories where a relationship fails not just because because of an incompatibility between the couple. But because one person never really knew who they were or loved themselves.

So they sublimated who they were and presented the “self” they believed was expected of them.

Over time this causes strain, as they aren’t being true to themselves and may come to resent playing a role.

Their partner has never seen their authentic self; but that’s not the partners fault, it’s because of walls they have built and what they have allowed them to see. And those walls were built out of fear. In some ways it’s due to fear of being rejected by that other person. But that fear is truly driven because they were unable to accept themselves.

Facing the Mirror

I think the strongest relationships are ones that are built on truth and authenticity. Where you have allowed yourself to become vulnerable and let the other person in. Where you have allowed them to see all of you – good and bad; and you know that they accept you and love you all the same.

That involves allowing them to truly see the authentic you, and for that to happen until you must first accept and love yourself.

self love

What Do You Want?

Wishlist
Every day businesses undertake projects that are intended to guide and shape their futures. Considerable effort is put into these projects – countless person hours and dollars.
But studies show that these projects often fail. And for those that don’t fail, a relatively small percentage can truly be considered a success.

Most projects fall into this “other” category where they aren’t outright failures; but they didn’t really achieve what they had set out to do. For these projects, their success is measured in relative terms.

Because of the costs involved, a lot of time and effort has been spent trying to understand this problem.

Why do projects not have a higher level of success? Is it due to shortcomings in the people involved? Is it the approach organizations take? And what can we do to try and improve the level of success in the future.

Often the failure of projects can be boiled down to one basic problem:

The business didn’t know what it wanted, or what it was trying to accomplish. It had a pretty good idea of what it wanted; but it didn’t truly understand its own needs, or requirements.

What exactly is a “Requirement”?

A requirement can be thought of as an action or property that something must have in order to have perceived value.

This definition of a requirement came from a business book. But really, it applies to anything.

When you buy a car you expect certain things from it. There’s an assumption that at the very least you will be able to start, stop and steer a car. If it doesn’t meet these criteria, then it doesn’t perform the activities we expect and therefore you wouldn’t buy it (it doesn’t have perceived value).

Of course you may buy a broken car as a hobby project or as a collector. But if either of those are your intent then you come in with a specific set of requirements for what you are looking for.

Going back to the business world, it is estimated that as much as 60% of (business) problems come from incorrectly identifying requirements. From not truly knowing what it is that a business wants, or is trying to accomplish.

See, businesses often don’t actually know what they want. And to actually achieve success in getting to what you want, having a *pretty good idea* isn’t nearly enough.

Can You Describe What You Want?

Not knowing what you want is a common business problem, but it’s also a common people problem.

I see this as something we all face, in all aspects of our lives. And like business projects, this is probably one of the main causes of failure people have in their personal relationships.

Not knowing what you want happens in a few different ways.

First, like businesses people often only have a general idea of what they want but they don’t really understand the specifics of it.  To a degree this is understandable, but it makes it very difficult to know if something has actually achieved its requirements. How can we determine if something is successful if we don’t even know the criteria we are measuring something against?

In relationships people often use “happiness” as their measure of success, and I constantly see/hear things like “I just want to be happy”, or “people deserve to be happy”.

Fair enough. But what does that mean?

Saying you want happiness is like saying you want to go on vacation somewhere; and then jumping in your car and driving randomly figuring you’ll see where you end up. You could do it, and it might even be kind of fun. You’ll definitely end up “somewhere” and will probably have some new experiences along the way (of course, some of them may be experiences you later wish you never had).

Something like happiness can be elusive if you don’t know what it means to you.  People seem to figure they will know it when they find it; but that’s kind of like driving randomly without a map and expecting to get where you want.

It *may* happen. But if it does it’s probably more luck than anything.

One problem is, it’s very difficult to say what constitutes happiness.  It’s not status, beauty or wealth – as many who seem to have everything are miserable while many who seem to have nothing profess to be happy. And it’s not just something you can “feel”, as there are a number of things and conditions that can make people depressed and struggle with the feeling of happiness.

So chasing happiness doesn’t work.

But you can have other things you want out of life. You can try to accomplish things for yourself, and for those around you (such as wanting to support your loved ones in the things they do).

To truly be happy in life and in love, you need to have a pretty good idea of what you are looking for.  And you need to be able to articulate those things.  Because if you can’t, how will you ever know if you find them?

 

A second problem is that sometimes people believe they know what they want. But once they get it, they realize it’s not actually what they were looking for.

This happens all the time, and I think it is an important and valuable experience. It happens when people think they understand their problem, while in reality they have come up with a possible solution. And it turns out not to be the solution to the right problem.

There are countless stories where someone wasn’t happy, and they attribute this unhappiness to *something*.  Maybe their job, or their appearance, or their relationship, or…

…the list can go on.

So they change things. And often find they aren’t any happier. In fact, sometimes they are even less happy, because they threw out one of the positives in their life in an attempt to find what was wrong.

When this happens, they thought they knew the solution to their problem.  But they were searching for a solution to a problem they didn’t truly understand.

Knowing Yourself

I titled this post “What Do You Want?”

We all have things we want out of life and love; and if we don’t, we should. But often, we aren’t really sure what those things are.  And when we do, it’s sometimes viewed as a negative thing.

It’s easy to say you have goals in life.  But love involves two people (generally). So wanting something out of love means that you actually have expectations of the other person.

And this can cause resentment.

Often I see people saying things like:

Why can’t someone just love me without expecting anything in return?

We seem to live in a world that thinks it’s bad to expect things from people. There are all sorts of sayings like “the best way to avoid disappointment is to not expect anything from anyone”, or “true love begins when nothing is looked for in return.” I understand the sentiment behind these sorts of statements, but feel it is a dangerous way of thinking.

Love has expectations. To me that’s a simple truth.

If it didn’t, people could marry and be happy with anyone, and clearly that’s not the case. Somehow it’s alright to say that people can have standards, but expectations are “bad”. Is there really a difference?  Expectation is an important aspect of any healthy relationship, as they are simply a way of articulating your requirements – the actions and properties you feel you need as part of the relationship.

Of course it is important that expectations are realistic, and there is a difference between expectations and entitlement.

We all have things we need from our friends, our families, our careers, and yes – even our partners.  And understanding yourself and what you want is extremely important for your own happiness.

Often the people who are chronically unhappy are people who just kind of slide through life, rarely making decisions, and rarely having goals. They’re like the person driving randomly, hoping to find a place to end up.

Personally, I don’t want to be happy. I mean I do, but I don’t see it as a goal.  Happiness is really part of an experience, or a process.  But the journey is the important part.

There are things I want out of life, and out of love, and I have expectations for all the people I care about. My parents, siblings, friends, children, and my partner. And I think it’s only fair that they in turn have expectations of me. But most importantly, I have expectations of myself.

The people in my life won’t always be able to meet my expectations, so yes at times I will be disappointed in them. And I’m sure there will be times that they will be disappointed in me.

That’s life though.

I won’t always be happy, and that’s alright. When I’m not, it’s not necessarily a reflection on the quality of my life, or of the people around me.

Instead of happiness, I want a life where I can be both happy and sad. Joyful, and angry. Curious and afraid. I want to live a life that combines the mundane aspects of day to day life with the bigger experiences, those moments you look back on and remember.

Sadness is part of that. So is anger, hurt and disappointment.  I’m not saying I look forward to them, but I accept them as part of my journey.

In the end, all I hope is that the good moments outweigh the bad.