The One That Got Away

Professional women want it all.

The perfect family. The successful career. Perfect children. Respect from their peers. Adoration and appreciation from their family. Eternal youth.

We ALL want it ALL, right?

Well, yes, but we men tend to do a better job of compartmentalizing the different aspects of life and resigning ourselves to the barriers of reality. Job is job… family is family… marriage is marriage… age is inevitable. We put these parts of our life in their own little sections of the plate. We really don’t like when the peas touch the carrots, so to speak.

With our temperament, we men will often stay in one little section of the plate for an inordinate amount of time. It’s the one that gives us the most obvious and quick “reward” for our efforts. It’s the one that fulfills our desire to “provide”.

We all know the stereotype of the man who stays in his “work” box and doesn’t come out enough to spend time with his wife and kids or focus on his health. Like every other stereotype, this idea didn’t just fall from the sky. Men can often get hyper-focused on the the goal of completing work or just on the actual act of the work itself and put blinders on to the rest of the world. Next thing he knows, he looks up from his desk and it’s 6:30pm. He missed his son’s teeball game. Again.

As a consequence, we now have a generation of men that sit around nursing a bottle of beer saying to his buddies, “My dad wasn’t around all that much.”

Their dad was a Super Provider Dad.

Super Provider Dad doesn’t say, “Dammit… if I could just work 30 hours a week, I would be around my family more and give them the time they deserve.” He resigns himself to the work. The work is his mission. It gives him a sense of purpose. His job title and paycheck are his scorecard. He gets hostile if the wife bugs him about working too much. “How do you think we pay all the bills, Sally?! Money doesn’t grow on trees!”

I’m reminded of the story by Pat Croce, former entrepreneur and owner of the Seventy Sixers. He had so much energy and would get so enthralled in his business that his wife and kids used to write him letters about how they missed him.

Super Provider Dad knows he can’t have it all.  Duh. Why would anyone think they could maintain this level of work achievement AND be some kind of super dad and husband? It’s impossible.

It sucks, but he often chooses work over family and health, and that’s that.

In my generation of dads, we do a much better job of setting aside work and concentrating on kids. We’re a loving, hugging, soccer-coaching, homeworking-helping bunch of guys. Yes, our career suffers and so does the marriage and our health (dead bedrooms and dad bods galore)… but we learned lessons from dear old dad and recognize the dangers of ignoring junior when he needs us most. We closed up the work box, opened the kid box and dove right in.

That mindset doesn’t seem to exist in the professional woman’s world.

She WILL be the perfect mom, she WILL be the most awesome employee at work, she WILL be a fantastic wife, and she WILL be super sexy and pretty until the day she dies.

The result? Failure.  A lot of guilt, anxiety, depression… and botox.

Somewhere along the line, somebody told women that they can and SHOULD have it all… and if not, they are an abject failure. For a woman to hear, “I don’t know how you do it all” is a badge of honor, not an indication of taking on too much in life.

The female propensity for Neuroticism (one of the five personality traits) doesn’t jive well with her very human inability to juggle so many things at once AND utlimately succeed at every last one of them.

They want it all -> They inevitably fail -> They experience great negative emotion.

People want what they can’t have.

In the world of pyschology, we know that if want to increase someone’s desire for something, you present the thing, pique their interested, and then quickly take it away. Dangle it juuuuuust out of reach.

“Playing hard to get” is a common ploy for both sexes during the mating game. Why? Because it works.

Men know not to answer a woman’s text message or call right away. Keep her waiting just a bit. Give her the impression that you’re too busy. You’re an important person. Keep her new relationship anxiety going, and then answer and watch her excitement boil over.

Women don’t cave in immediately to a man’s desire for physical intimacy because they don’t want to come across as sleazy or desperate. He has to jump through some hoops to win a chance with her. She’s a prize.

“I know you want this… but you can’t have it. Well, maybe you can. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Drives us crazy.

For many women, there is no greater carrot dangling in front of them the “The One That Got Away” (TOTGA).

TOTGA is the guy that really REALLY pushed her buttons. He may have been the one that had that combination of all those qualities that make up the all around dream guy. Maybe he was just fun-loving sexy type of guy that was full of adventure. Maybe he was the sexy loser that she would sneak off with and not tell her friends or family about.

The important thing is that TOTGA was presented with the option of entering into a longterm monogamous relationship with her, and he said, in no uncertain terms, “I don’t think so. Sorry. No.”

She wanted him. Couldn’t have him. Not because of something he did, necessarily… but, instead because she failed at being the quality of woman necessary to land a man of that caliber.

She had him in her grasp… and she just couldn’t hold on. This is like being denied that promotion she worked hard for. Like finding out her kid is having behaviorial problems at school. Like finding out her husband is looking at porn non-stop.

It’s failure.

TOTGA, in her mind,  is the living embodiment of “There’s something very wrong with me as a woman.”

For many women, if it weren’t for their biological and social pressure to “settle down” and start a family, she would absolutely still try to be with TOTGA.

I have known several women that openly admit the existence of TOTGA. One in particular sticks out as a textbook example.

Amy had a boyfriend. He was fun. She had an exciting life with him. She was very much in love. He said no to an extended long-term relationship/marriage. She was getting up there in years… a career woman. She quickly found another Provider man (a doctor), and within one year they were engaged. They married and soon after she was pregnant. Mid 30’s… so just under the fertility wire. Smart gal.

They are the most un-loving couple I have ever seen. You would think they are brother and sister.

In the very short time that my wife and I have known Amy, she has mentioned the ex-boyfriend to us both. It’s obvious the guy is her TOTGA.

My wife and I went with her and her husband to go skiing. It was my first time ever on the slopes. I was busy doing the “pizza” maneuver with my skis and trying to keep from breaking my arms and legs. Meanwhile, Amy was zooming around like a pro. I was impressed. I complimented her on her skills.  “I used to go skiing all the time with my ex. He was really good.”  Alright, was it really necessary to bring up the ex at that point? That made me take notice a bit. She could’ve simply said “Oh, Thanks. I’ve been skiing for years.”

She would later admit to my wife that she still is still in contact with her TOTGA, husband knows about it and he doesn’t like it. She chats with him anyway.

Every time she reaches out to him, it’s her way of saying “I’m really not ALL that bad, right?! I mean… there’s still some slight chance that, if the situation were right…”

She has to keep in touch with TOTGA. Why? Well, why the hell not? She wants it all, right? She has the dutiful provider husband, the baby, the career… but she doesn’t have TOTGA.

Hubby says, “I love and adore you forever”.

Baby says, “I love you more than anything on the planet.”

TOTGA says “Nah… I think I can do better.”

This is in part why, by my estimation, women have such a hard time enforcing boundaries. With boundaries, much of the concept is you saying to yourself, “Even though I can have it and I may badly want it, it’s not good for me and my current situation…so I’m going to have to say no.” That goes wildly against the “I want and deserve it all. Anything else is failure.” doctrine.

  • She wants to be VP of Sales for her company. Reality: That means working 70 hour work weeks and not seeing her husband and kids very often.
  • She wants to be super homemaker mom who bakes pies and attends all of the school functions. Reality:  No VP of Sales position for her. The guy who works 80 hours a week and never sees his kids gets the job instead.
  • She wants to be super sexy woman for the next 30 years. Reality: No more indulging in wine and desserts. You have to go to the gym 4 days a week and yoga on the weekends. Cosmetic surgery is a strong possibility. This will put you at the top 10% of women your age.
  • She wants to be the best wife possible. Reality: TOTGA is dead. He never existed. Focus on the now.

Learn to compartmentalize, in other words. Enforce boundaries.

It’s tough. It’s tough for all of us, but it’s especially tough for the ladies who like to not only mix their peas and carrots on the plate, but to also throw a big pile of cake on top of the whole thing and chase it down with three bottles of Dom Perignon. Then they complain that they have a belly ache.

This is why people say that women “multi-task” so much better than men. They find it very difficult to compartmentalize.

This goes back to my theory of about sometimes enforcing boundaries for your wife. It’s a delicate balance. You don’t want to be a controlling/abusive asshole that tells your wife NO all the time, but you also want to make sure she does what is best for you and your family. For many men, they can’t fathom having to enforce a boundary for their wife. She SHOULD KNOW not to talk to that guy, go out for drinks, send messages to an ex, etc. Yeah, well… what if she doesn’t? Are you willing to walk away? Are you willing to do things to keep her from crossing the line? Is your relationship worth the effort?

In the world of infidelity, there is no stronger candidate for an affair partner than TOTGA. None. He’s the dangling golden carrot. He’s the guy she let slip away. He’s a reminder of her failure.

He’s living proof that “having it all” is impossible… FOR HER. For a lot of women, that is a crippling realization.

If she suddenly grabs the TOTGA carrot, she ain’t letting go. He’s the trophy she holds over her head as she screams “See?! I CAN HAVE IT ALL!!”

You’ve been warned.

In another life, I would be your girl
We keep all our promises, be us against the world
In another life, I would make you stay
So I don’t have to say you were the one that got away
The one that got away
The one, the one, the one
The one that got away
All this money can’t buy me a time machine, no
Can’t replace you with a million rings, no
I should’a told you what you meant to me, whoa
Cause now I pay the price
The One That Got Away – Katy Perry

Weakness

The concept of “sucking it up” and “being a man” didn’t just fall from the sky. They are axioms that have been passed down from generation to generation. They evolved naturally as a response to the community’s needs and expectations.

Men who have been around the block a few times know one thing:

“We’re all weak. We all have faults and vulnerabilities. Deep down we’re all scared kids just trying to make it in the world. Yes, your girlfriend/wife/kids are free to emote and share these fears and vulnerabilities. The world will praise them for doing so. For you, the man... this isn’t the case. People will poke and prod and sometimes beg you to open up and share your innermost feelings and weakness and fear. After doing so, they will reject you or relegate you to inferior status. This is true of your friends, your coworkers, your boss, and your romantic partner.”

Some semblance of the above has probably been shared with you at one point or another, usually in a much simpler form:

  • Be a man.
  • Man up.
  • Deal with it.
  • Suck it up.
  • Get up. Don’t let them see you weak.
  • Stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about.

The current political/emotional climate claims that the above is a manifestation of a larger issue known as  “toxic masculinity”. Those opposed to such displays feel that we must do all we can to stomp out such evil. Once we do that, we’ll have no more war, no more sexual assault, and men will be free to cry like babies with no repercussion.

Yeah… no. Sounds great in theory. Will never work in practice. It ignores reality.

The term “toxic masculinity” is misleading. It implies that these “suck it up” traits are somehow an evil, poisonous manifestations of human behavior that we must act agressively to remove.

Quite the contrary. If we remove “man up” and stoicism from our definition of masculinity, what is left? At that point, what defines a “man” other than the bits dangling between his legs?

We didn’t randomly come up with these “acting weak is dangerous” concepts on our own. This isn’t a grand scheme devised by males to hold power over others and make life more difficult for our fellow men (that makes no sense). Instead, it’s a reaction to a subversive and sometimes overt set of societal rules that we note again and again and again in our daily lives. We have listened, digested and reacted accordingly.

Men act this way because society has told us to do so. Otherwise, we wouldn’t go through the trouble. We wouldn’t hold in our emotions and have more heart attacks and stress-related ailments. We wouldn’t commit suicide at such high rates. We would seek out more help from our loved ones. We would emote. We would “let it all out” when the mood hits us.

But, we can’t.

Oh sure, we can take the outcome-independent approach, thumb our nose at convention and say,  “I don’t care what happens… I’m going to be who I am and to hell with everyone” and cave to our momentary weakness, but we have to be honest with ourselives. We will pay the price in some way. Most of us have learned this at some point or another in our lives.

Many of us try to momentarily let our guard down. For example, we men tend to emotionally soften when with our wives. We talk about our aching bodies. We complain about stupid little things in our day-to-day lives.  We complain about work. We look for motherly sympathy and love when we get sick. We cry.

What happens?

The wife sees the weakness. She recoils. She may do her best to disguise her feelings, but the discomfort is palpable.

You could survive a workplace injury with 50 stitches across your face, a severed finger and three broken vertebrae and she would say to her friends, “I had gave birth with no epidural and never once whined like this. Wow. He is so annoying.”  You could have the flu and a 103 temperature and your wife would snear and say “What’s wrong with you?” when you answer her questions in a less than cheerful manner (this happened to me all the time in marriage #1).

This is why women came up with the term “man flu”. Not because men are whinier than women (c’mon, seriously?), but because women just flat out can’t stand it when their man is weak and incapacitated. Her ability to empathize is overpowered by her acute disdain for you at that moment.

Don’t think that this is an anti-woman post. Not at all. Your job of retaining the “strong man” persona extends beyond the home.

Just try being weak in the workplace. Watch as Brad gets the promotion you worked so hard to earn. The only reason you can gather why Brad was picked was because he was outgoing, cool under pressure, and good looking. You would be correct. Your consistent 70 hour work weeks, excellent project management and unblemished performance reviews were no match for the time you got overwhelmed and choked up in the break room in front of your coworkers. That one moment put a permanent stain on your image, and subsequently your career. You’re “That guy that cried that one time.”

Your boss may not be able to verbalize it, but there’s something about you that’s just not leadership material.

Try being weak in sports. Be the guy who always gets up limping after falling down on the basketball court (we all know that guy). Be the guy who gets upset when he makes a silly mistake and hangs his head and pouts for the next 20 minutes. You’ll be on the bench where you belong. Who cares if you are the best shooter on the team and hit 90% of your free throws. You’re a wuss. It’s annoying and everyone woudl prefer you didn’t play.

Weakness brings about hostility, anxiety and sometimes anger from those around you. When you show vulnerability, people will POKE at you (test you) until you finally role over and expose your belly. Bullies know this. They test and test. If you continue caving in to them, the bullying escalates. It’s not until you break one of their noses that they finally back off.

Your wife will always be one of the biggest pokers/testers. “Shit tests” is what some men call them.  Little jabs here and there. She will poke. And poke. And poke. You will finally snap and say, “Hey, can you fucking cut it out please?!”. This will be met with disbelief. “Wow, you’re sensitive. Stop being such a baby.” Translation: “You should’ve told me to stop 18 pokes ago, you big wuss. Seeing you so affected by my words is a turnoff. Call me an asshole or ignore me, but don’t tell me your feelings are hurt.”

Not having the sex life you feel you “deserve”? You could do what most men do in that situation…. and cave in to emotion. Talk to her. Appeal to both her rational and romantic side. Show her how much your lack of intimacy affects your well-being. Show her how hurt you are.

When you realize how important maintaining strength is for a man in any relationship, doing the pitiful sob-story routine with your “low libido” wife is the absolute worst thing you can do.

“But… that’s what we MEAN by TOXIC MASCULINITY! This kind of stuff needs to stop! Men are DYING because of this mindset! Men should be able to emote with no fear of negative fallout.”

Ok. While we’re at it, we should also and tell men that it’s wrong for them to be attracted to young women. We should also tell women to stop being attracted to fit and rich men, for kids to not like candy and for dogs to stop hating cats so much.

It’s not going to happen. It’s human nature. We reward the strong men and avoid/punish the weak. Sometimes we have to stand up and help and protect the weak. That is noble. But, let’s be honest, the person you are helping… are they good “leader” material?  The kind of person you want helping you achieve your goals? A source of happiness? No. The moment you extend your hand, they are reduced to the lower echelons of the heirarchy.

As older and more experienced men will tell you, the ones that are the most vocal about wanting to see your “vulnerable” side are the ones that will punish you the worst. “I know I said I wanted him to open up to me… but not THAT much. Jesus.”

So, we just suck it up and deal with the internal struggle and suffer? Not necessarily.

I’m a huge proponent of the teachings of Stoicism. 

… as social beings, the path to happiness for humans is found in accepting this moment as it presents itself, by not allowing ourselves to be controlled by our desire for pleasure or our fear of pain, by using our minds to understand the world around us and to do our part in nature’s plan, and by working together and treating others fairly and justly.

Live in reality. Don’t be easily washed away in the emotion of the moment. Find the positive aspects of the reality you are in.

I’m reminded of the Tom Hanks movie “Bridge of Spies”. One of the main characters was Rudolf Abel, a Russian spy. Nothing rattled Abel, not even after being discovered. He just remained calm and went along with whatever was happening at the moment. An incredulous Tom Hanks finally asked Abel, “Aren’t you worried?” Rudolf’s response: “Would it help?”

Find help if you need to… but do so carefully. This is what a close male friend, your parents, a sibling or your dog are for. Do not burden your boss, your wife, your coworkers or your casual aquaintances with your day-to-day problems. Doing so paints you in a negative light and slowly chips away at your positive masculinity.

The world has little use for a weak man. Take solace in your role as the rational figure who doesn’t succumb to emotion.

 

Stop Blaming The “Other Man”

I find myself reading relationship-oriented forums and message boards. It’s a good way for me to reply to dudes in need … and also a good way to generate traffic to my website and possible book sales (just being honest).

One thing you see when you frequent these forums are definite trends in the overall groupthink. The tide shifts and changes depending on what the people on discussion forums think is right and wrong on that particular given day. One day it may be “Open relationships are cool” or “Dad bods are awesome”. Right now, I see a trend amongst men online that can be summarized as: “Your wife had an affair? Go after the other man!”

It goes something like this:

Man finds out wife is cheating or is on the verge of cheating. The internet tells him that he needs to do a better job of getting between his wife and the other man. Readers will reply and go on and on about “Players” and how these men are a danger to the welfare of the wife and their relationship. These evil men PREY upon these women and get them at their most vulnerable. They go after married women because they are easier targets.

Many of these people will recommend that the man get physical and confront the other man/predator/player before it is too late.

Please.

Can we PLEASE stop with this mildly sexist trope of “Poor defenseless woman being a victimized by evil predator men”? It’s getting old. Not only is it annoying, it’s wrong.  You won’t win your woman back with this mindset. She’s already gone by this point.

This is just another manifestation of the Not MY wife! phenomenon.  “It can’t possibly be my wife’s fault… it’s that EVIL MAN!”

By projecting his anger onto the other man, the husband is holding on to what little hope he has left for the relationship.  As long as it means upholding the lie of “My wife is a victim”, the man will even put himself in real physical danger to “defend” her.

Meanwhile, his wife, high up on the pedestal her husband put her on,  is looking on with disgust as she sends text messages to her next “predator”.

“OMG… he’s so stupid. You should see this. He’s actually fighting right now. He looks like a troll.  What an idiot. I’m horny. Want to meet during my lunch break tomorrow?”

How many men will our hero husband have to beat up (or take beatings from) before he says “You know… maybe it IS my wife, after all”?

The Wolves Are Always Circling

You can’t possibly fight off and protect your wife from the countless men out there who are ready and willing to have sex with her. You just can’t. Even if your wife is 100 lbs overweight and not much to look at, there is an army of men waiting to take her to bed. Yes, men are desperate.  Go create an average fake woman account on an online dating website and you’ll see what I mean.

Boundaries

The other man became the “other man” because your wife let down her boundaries and allowed him into her personal/sexual space. That’s it. Regardless of his own action, she also decided to cross the line.

Boundaries are everything when it comes to mental health and the health of your monogamous relationship. You are presented on a regular basis with things that would harm you and your marriage, but you look the other way or outright say NO without even giving it a second thought.

Here’s the kicker: Sometimes your wife will unable or seemingly unwilling to put up her own boundaries. Why? Simple.  She may feel the allure of crossing over the boundary line. It’s exciting. It’s fun. She may recognize this and ask you, sometimes in a very direct way, to put up the expected boundary for her.

There was a perfect example of this on the Talk About Marriage forum. A man went into detail about his wife’s platonic friendship with a “nerdy” guy from work. He didn’t like their frequent texting and hanging out, but he didn’t want to come across as some kind of weakling and say “YOU MUST STAY AWAY FROM THIS MAN!” So… he did nothing and kept a close eye on the situation.

Then, his wife predictably did what a lot of women on the verge of crossing the line do. She asked him to put the boundaries up for her.

“As they became closer friends at work, she asked what I thought about her making him her friend (as she lacks friends)”.

This was his opportunity to let her know what he thought. Instead, his response was “I told her that’s fine”.

Ugh. She obviously felt something was a little “wrong” about her relationship with the guy from work… otherwise she wouldn’t have brought it up. Much like she doesn’t bring up the 100 other banal things she does every day at work. But this guy… this is different. He’s at the top of her mind. This is fun, and it shouldn’t be. She needs some help. She needs some direction. She needs hubby to play the bad guy and do the dirty work for her.

What would I have done? I would say something like:

“I don’t have any close female friends. I think it’s just asking for trouble, to be honest. Not sure why you feel the need to have a close male friend, especially a close male friend at work. You’re really asking for trouble in that situation.  You’re fully aware that he wants you, sexually, right?  Of course you do. You’re not stupid. He’s a man. But, you still remain close friends with him. Do you do so because of the attention? Does he do things for you? Do you really think that’s a good thing?

You’re married. I suggest you act like a married woman. If not, you will find yourself single again. That’s not a threat. Just telling you how it is. I’m not joking with you. I have no need for a wife that hangs out with hungry men so she can get attention. There are lots of women out there who have gangs of men followers who they chat with all the time… I don’t want any of them for a wife.”

This probably wouldn’t go over well. You may be called controlling. Weak. Silly. Jealous. Abusive. That’s fine.

Recognize what these responses from her are: The last ditch effort to keep the dopamine hits she experiences with her new emotional partner… and a big test. She wants to see what you’re made of. Do you stick to your guns? Are you REALLY serious about dumping her over something like this? Would you dare follow through?

Will you stand up to her?

You’ll get the wheels spinning. This may or may not result in a better marriage for you… but one thing it will do is earn her respect. You are showing her a clear boundary and bluntly telling her what the price is for not respecting it. You’re not asking her to do anything you wouldn’t do. You don’t have close female friends, nor do you want one.

Do you know how many men stand up to their wife and enforce boundaries? VERY VERY few. Most do what the guy on the forum did: “That’s fine.” Translation: “Please don’t think I’m a mean guy. Please don’t think of me in a negative light. I see the other man is making you happy… so please, be happy!” Men just love to hide behind the facade of being “understanding” and “thoughtful” in order to win good husband points. In reality, they are just avoiding conflict and putting themselves further into the “shitty husband” category.

Hey, if you are truly cool and trust your wife 100% with the guy from work… then that’s great. More power to you. I wish I had your level of trust and naivety. But, if you’re like most men (like the ones that post on these forums), you reach out for help because something juuuuuust doesn’t feel right. That’s your gut talking. That’s many generations of genetic code embedded in your brain telling you  “Warning: Your marital investment is in danger.” Listen to it. Don’t listen to the blame-shifting and gas-lighting behavior from others telling you that you are crazy, controlling or even abusive.

Putting up boundaries is healthy.

Think about the situation in very simple terms: Your wife wants to hang out with other men? Ok… why? What does she have to gain by having another close one-on-one friend that is a man? Why not just keep him at workplace aquaitance/coworker status?

What if the roles were reversed? Think she would care? Of course she would. She’s not stupid. Women can be the most visciously jealous partners. Why? They know how quickly you can slip and go over the line. It happens every single day to many couples all over the world. None of us are immune to it.

 

You can’t trust yourself. Take time to heal.

While I was married to my first wife,  I used to cherish the rare moments I would get alone. During those quiet moments, I was able to re-calibrate and get a sense of self that I couldn’t have with three screaming kids, a nagging wife and all that work. A day to just sit… and do NOTHING? Awesome. Thank God.

 

It wasn’t until my “married life” reality was taken away that I realized how conditioned I had become. While I may have been alone and enjoying peace and quiet for a day, I always had the crutch and foundation of family and marriage to lean on.

Divorce peeled the scab back and exposed wounds that I never knew I had.

After the ex left, “What do I do now?!” was never in my vocabulary. I just turned into a post-divorce robot dad and was moving on auto-pilot. I was king of the to-do lists… and three kids made sure those lists were always full. Finding something to DO was not an issue. After a while, I would say my behavior bordered on “obsessive”. Lots and lots of cleaning. Lots of organizing. Trying to create order out of chaos. Avoiding the hard stuff. Avoiding the truth.

I had my fingers in my ears and yelled “LALALALALA!! NOT LISTENING!” as the harsh reality of my world was hitting me upside the head. As long as I stay in my little enclosure, I didn’t have to deal with it.

In hindsight, I would say I was suffering from some post-traumatic stress. I am stopping short of calling it full-fledged PTSD because I think we should reserve that diagnosis for guys that experience combat, death, and truly malevolent human behavior firsthand.

My wife just got caught fucking another guy and divorced me. In the grand scheme of things, that’s peanuts.

But still…. traumatic in its own way.

Divorce is what the kids call a huge “mind fuck”. Reality altering. For me, it was so very sudden. One moment I’m boring dad on the beach with my nag of a wife and our three energetic kids… and the next moment I’m alone in a house looking at online dating sites drooling over 20-year-olds. I had put myself into that “dating” world with the same obsessiveness and tunnel-vision that I applied to house cleaning and organizing the kids’ lives.

Fingers still in ears. Making order out of chaos.

Looking back, there is one overwhelming question that comes to mind when thinking of my immediate post-divorce self:

“WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING?!”

I can now, after years of contemplation and hindsight, answer that question.

I wasn’t THINKING. I was FEELING. I was “broken” in every sense of the word. The brain was randomly firing, looking for a fix, and I was acting out.

I just wanted to feel good. I wanted some kind of justice.

“Hmmmm… maybe if I assemble a group of young, horny 20-something sex-addicted college co-ed commandos to carry out a raid and murder my ex and her affair partner.”

When I get messages from guys, you can always tell the ones that are new to the game. They don’t even have to tell me all the details. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that their behavior is strange and emotion-driven, and they are ALMOST completely blind to it.

Every situation is different but still the same.  For some guys, it takes just a few months of hell and the fog clears and they are back on the path of normalcy. For others, it may take years. They keep living in denial and kick the can down the road again, and again, and again.

They are too scared to face the truth.

I remember a guy I met at the gym years ago. I don’t remember how we got to chatting, but we worked out together once. Really good guy. He’s what I would call a naturally good-looking dude. Tall. In really good shape. Still young. A little stand-offish. Not the most confident man in the world. He, his wife and two kids just moved into town from out of state. He worked IT for one of the local companies.

After that one workout day and a few messages here and there, he disappeared. I found out later that he ended up moving to a neighboring state to be closer to her family (that sounds familiar).

Then outta the blue, years later and about a year after my own divorce, we started chatting on Facebook. His life had changed dramatically. The wife went crazy, took out lines of credit in his name, racked up debt …AND she cheated on him. Very typical borderline personality behavior. He had admitted to having numerous warning signs/red flags throughout their relationship. He ignored for the greater good of the family…. and now he was paying the price.

She was moving in with her new guy. My friend was fighting for custody of the kids. He eventually ended up getting full custody due to all her issues and the identitity theft.

A story like that wasn’t anywhere close to being new and shocking to me. I had already heard from a dozen other guys just like him by that time… and had also read countless stories just like his online.

What WAS new to me was seeing his immediate post-divorce/infidelity behavior. It was, I would say, a little concerning.

He had drafted a very long and detailed letter that he insisted on giving his ex-wife’s new boyfriend. He just HAD to warn him about her and her BPD ways. He must save this man and get back at her!

This was Nice Guy “save the world” behavior, plus a need for justice and revenge. Not good.

I told him he was asking for trouble. The letter will just kick a hornet’s nest. He was in the middle of trying to get custody of his kids and sue the ex for stealing his identity. Reaching out to her new boyfriend was not a good idea.

He vehemently disagreed. We went back and forth on this for quite a while.

I never did find out what happened with that letter… maybe he gave it to the guy and the ex-wife never found out about it (he is still alive, after all). Maybe he came to his senses and realized that nobody gives a shit and he needs to move on to more important things in life.

Regardless, the strange behavior continued.

Next thing you know, he is posting videos of himself online, shirtless, singing songs he wrote. From what little I knew of him, he wasn’t really the “look at me, I’m shirtless and asking for attention” kinda guy. He was a wallflower when I met him.

Then he wrote strange poetry and shared it with everyone.

Then he started frequently posting photos of himself and his kids on Facebook. He did this every day. Multiple times a day. He needed to remind everyone “I’m the good parent here! Look, no wife in the picture!”

  • Petty revenge behavior
  • Posting photos and videos for attention
  • Patting himself on the back about what a great parent he is
  • Denial of reality

Hmmmm… Almost sounds like typical divorced single mom behavior. But I digress…

It was all just very odd. He was mentally broken.

He was looking for attention. Admiration. He was looking for confirmation that he WAS doing everything by the book his whole life and that SHE was batshit crazy.

“Would somebody PLEASE recognize how great I fucking am, already!?!” 

Nobody gave a shit.

The truth was that he was on his own. He’s always been on his own. The wife was not his, it was just his turn.

The truth was that in his 30 some odd years on the planet he never put the hard work and time in that he needed to develop his SELF. It finally caught up to him.

He was dependant on a severely broken woman to give him a sense of completion. With her out of the picture, he went off the rails.

I see this more often than I would like.

Maybe not “take your shirt off and sing for Facebook” levels of weird, but I see very emotional and irrational behavior from guys out there ALL the time.

The timeline is usually like this:

  1. I’m so devastated. This is terrible. How could she do this? I don’t understand. I did everything right (lots of crazy behavior here).
  2. I really need to focus on getting better. I can’t go on like this. I’m a mess. (more crazy behavior but the fog is beginning to lift)
  3. I realize I have some deep issues that have caused bad things to happen to me over the years. That eventually led to where I am today. It’s sad, but I’m glad I have the clarification now. It’s all uphill from here! (the fog continues to lift)
  4. Oh, look! A woman! She likes me! I’ll proceed to ignore everything I just learned because she makes me feel REALLY good right now! Yay! It’s almost as if all that bad stuff never happened! What’s that? A red flag? BAH! It’s nothing. I can’t always walk away from this relationship if I have to. I mean… I’m not marrying this woman tomorrow or anything! (back to crazy town)
  5. I would totally marry this woman tomorrow if I had the chance. Jesus, she’s perfect in every way. How did I get so lucky? I’m going to bend over backward to keep her around (he’s deep in crazy at this point).
  6. Oh. Never mind. It’s over. Fuck. What was I thinking?? Ok… where was I with this self-improvement thing again? (fog lifting again)

It’s on step 4 that they usually stop talking to me (too busy with their new girl.. and they’re ashamed)… and step 6 is when they come back with their tail between their legs.

100% of men I talk to jump into relationships too soon. 100% of them wish they would have waited a while longer.

Jumping into a relationship too soon is a sign of being broken. A rational person sits back and recognizes their need for help. A rational person realizes that bringing other human beings into their broken world will not end well. It’s not fair to themselves, their loved ones, or the new “girlfriend”.

Men I talk to often qualify their new girlfriends to me. They know they’re not mentally firing on all cylinders just yet… so they need to convince me that “It’s ok… This one is different!”

“Oh no… we’re just casually dating. Nothing serious. She’s fun. Are we dating other people? No… we both agreed not to. I took her to meet my parents last week. They love her.”

“So far no red flags. She’s really very normal in every way. She has two kids from a previous marriage. We already talked about what it would be like to blend our families. We know it’s too early, but we’re tired of being single and we’re awesome together.”

“She’s going to move in with me. She’s going to school right now to get her Phd. She’s really driven. I’m helping her out so that she doesn’t have to work so many hours and can concetrate on her studies.”

Everything is great, casual and fun. Nothing serious. Except that they are only dating each other, she met his parents after week #2, he’s already met her kids and he’s paying for everything.

Everyone outside of the relationship looks at them, shakes their head and says “This won’t end well.” They recognize the crazy manic state he is in. For the guy… he’s in too deep and in love. His brain is firing away with all those feel-good chemicals. Rationality is out the window.

He is now officially open to make a huge number of life-changing mistakes that he can’t see yet. The fog and confusion of love, lust, and happiness blind him. This could get really bad in a hurry.

When the fog finally clears, he discovers that the woman cheated on her last husband, she has borderline personality disorder (medicated) and she is still actively texting three other guys. Soon after finishing her Ph.D., she leaves the relationship and has a new guy immediately.

That’s when I get the email.

“Dude… things are really fucked up right now.”

So, where did he go wrong?

Where he went wrong is that he never fully erased the programming he had from all those years of marriage. He never removed the crutch of marriage that he leaned so heavily on all those years. The “strong” foundation of marriage that was always there was comfortable… but at the same time limited his development as a human being. Having that wife to fall back on was a safety net. Once it was taken away, it made everything a hell of a lot scarier.

He falls flat on his face. Time to get a new net, right?!

The healthy way of looking at it is saying “Do I really need that crutch? Why do I need it? Can I operate to my full capacity in life and gain happiness by being alone?” If the answer is “no”, then he has issues he needs to address.

After a man realizes true happiness on his own, he realizes that the fickle nature of love, romance and women isn’t the foundation of life… but just a really nice accessory.  Romance is the heated leather seats in your new SUV. It’s great to have and it makes things nicer and more comfortable and puts a smile on your face, but you don’t need it.  You can still get from point A to B without it.

There’s nothing wrong with love and romance. Most of us WANT a long-term romantic relationship with just the right woman. We LOVE being in love and having that person to go through life with.  It’s an amazing feeling. The irony is that you won’t find that love until you don’t need it. It’s the great cosmic joke.

Find happiness within yourself. Concentrate on YOU. Tear down those safety nets and kick away those crutches… and the world of normalcy opens to you.

Her: “I have two kids and want to pursue my PhD while you pay for everything. Sound like a plan?”

Mentally Healthy Guy: “It was great meeting you. Take care.”

Her: “Wow that was some great casual sex we just had. I would like to date exclusively now. Can I meet your parents next week?”

Mentally Healthy Guy: “I can appreciate the sentiment, but I’m not interested in jumping into a serious relationship so fast. I hope you understand. You were great. Let’s keep in touch.”

Mentally Healthy Guy (MHG) knows his worth. He knows the PhD and Needy Girl have something off about them and he doesn’t want to waste more time being around them. It was fun… but no thanks. They are literally two of about 500,000 women in his demographic that he would be willing to date. Maybe one of those 500,000 end up being a really great match and she is worthy of settling down with.

Chances are that won’t be the case… and he knows that. He’s cool with that.

My typical reader doesn’t know that. They are broken. They CAN’T see that right now. They have no true sense of worth. They’re in a very confused state. They see the monogamous long term relationship as the finish line because that’s all they’ve known all these years.  If they happen to hit that finish line in week #2 of their divorced life… great!

Take time. Step back. Reflect. Work. Think. Work more. Be honest with yourself.

The women aren’t going anywhere. That ONE girl is not THE ONE. Trust me. If she is your perfect one-in-a-milion match, she will wait for you. She’ll understand, back off, and be a friend.

That’s what good, healthy people do.

Chances are, with time and distance, you will realize just how much she is NOT the one and just how broken she also is. See… when in a broken state, you tend to attract other broken people. Mentally healthy people recognize your brokenness and avoid you. They’re the girls at the bar who look at you wide-eyed and say “Okay… well, it was nice meeting you.”

They’re not playing hard-to-get… they’re running away. There’s a big difference. They have a finally-tuned “broken guy” meter.

Take time. Lots of time. Enjoy life. Discover yourself. You will very quickly slip and fall and find yourself right back on Step 1. Then you’ll go through the process again. Then again. Then you’ll find you’re not slipping anymore.

You’ll be failing a lot over the next few months/years. No need to exponentiate the suffering with a quick new wife replacement.  You can ride the rollercoaster by yourself.

You’re a big boy now.

“My wife wouldn’t do that.”

When I talk about my own personal “awakening” during post-divorce life,  I usually mean in terms of recognizing the underlying truths in relationships and the psychology of my fellow humans, ladies in particular. Accepting REALITY and not what SHOULD be, in other words.

The reccuring subtext of this awakening: Just how mind-numbingly stupid men are when it comes to their relationships with women.

My first glimpse into baffling male behavior (other than my own special blend of stupid) came very early on. My ex-wife had just moved out. The kids were at their grandparents’ house and I had a rare night home alone. I was feeling VERY down.  I decided to send a text message to a guy that my therapist had put me in touch with. “His story is a lot like yours” she told me.

He didn’t text me back but instead immediately called me. “I don’t like texting and I’m glad you reached out.” Turns out he was eagerly awaiting my call and couldn’t wait to share his story and get things off his chest. He talked a mile a minute.

Of course, there were many similarities between our stories. He was the first guy who clued me into how all the guy stories are the same. “Let me guess… she did this and this and then did this, right?” It was like I was talking to some kind of psychic medium. Did he have cameras in my house or something?? Creepy how he knew everything.

His story sure was interesting. His world was flipped upside down when he discovered that his wife and mother of his two children was not only having an affair, but an affair with a WOMAN. She proclaimed that she was now gay and probably always had been.

Ouch.

He told me all the details of their storybook life.  Kids, his long hours at work, her going back to school… and then BAM! He sees messages from some guy. BAM! They’re having an affair. BAM! Oh wait, it’s a woman. BAM! She’s moving out. BAM! She wants the girls to live with her and her new lover most of the time… in a little two bedroom apartment in a not-so-nice part of town.

That was quite the five punch combo. Jesus… I thought I had it bad.

He says it looks like he’s going to have to spend some money and hire and attorney to fight for 50/50 custody… or better yet majority custody. She doesn’t work, so he probably has a good chance. “Is she going to try and come after you for money? Alimony, child support, stuff like that?”, I asked.

Here’s the kicker. Wait for it…

No, my wife wouldn’t do that. Everyone always asks me that… but I KNOW MY WIFE BETTER THAN ANYONE and she’s not the type of person to go after my money like that.”

This guy JUST told me all these stories about his life getting yanked out from under him by a wife who had an affair with a woman and is currently trying to take the kids away from him so that they can all live happily in her lesbian lover’s shitty apartment… and he was saying that he KNOWS his wife and she wouldn’t do something like come after his money???

My initial reaction was to chuckle… because surely he was joking.

Nope. He was dead serious.

He was conditioned and in complete denial. This guy probably saw more red flags than a Chinese parade during the course of his relationship. He didn’t do a damn thing about any of them and he STILL had his head in the sand about his cheating wife. His current situation wasn’t just a continuation of more and more red flags. His situation was the RESULT of years of ignored red flags… AND they were signs of even MORE inevitable bad things to come. It’s time to lawyer up and protect yourself, dude! All hands on deck!

But no… his wife wouldn’t do that. He knows her too well.

I have heard some variation of this more than a few times. Usually it’s when a man starts complaining about his wife and her new (not new, just amplified), confusing behavior. “She’s hanging out with the girls from work all the time… she’s ignoring the kids… the house is a mess… she’s always at work… she works out at the gym all the time… she goes down to the basement and listens to music for hours instead of being with the family… she opened up her own bank account… I caught her texting some guy… I caught her lying”.

Then somebody says “Do you think she’s cheating on you?”

“Oh no, dude… she would never do that. She’s not like that. She’s very much against cheating. Always has been.”

Uh huh.

What you’re seeing here is blatant denial. Why? Because a large part of the man’s reality is based upon one giant myth:

His wife is THE ONE.

And as THE ONE, she is above all of those basic stupid negative qualities so many normal HUMANS have. To think she would lower herself to such things… No way. Not his wife.

What about if Ms. Perfect mothered his children? Oh shit… then she’s got moral superiority points from now until the end of time. Mothers don’t do things like that.

And then… he finds out. She really WAS capable of that thing he said she would never do. Damn. “But you know what… no no… she may have done THAT thing, but she would never do that OTHER thing. I know her… deep down she’s good. Going one step further into awfulness? Nope. Not her.”

He keeps moving the goalposts. He keeps changing the rules so that she never wins the coveted “She’s just an awful human being after all” trophy.

To men with no boundaries and a fear of conflict (and the subsequent abandonement), there is no choice but to put the woman at a higher level than him. She is the beacon of hope in a world filled with dread and anxiety. If that crumbles, what’s he have left to lean on?

To put it in wise grandpa terms: The boy done put the pussy on a pedestal.

 

It starts when we are young.

The hormones kick in. Puberty happens. Girls start looking VERY interesting. A boy just wants to go up to that cute girl in class and say “You are really pretty. Will you be my girlfriend?” But no… he wouldn’t dare. She is a beacon of beauty and sunshine. Just the thought of being rejected by her makes his face flush. He prefers to keep her at a safe distance so he can marvel at her beauty. This guarantees that he doesn’t experience the awfulness of rejection.

Then Jimmy, the confident and really tall kid in class, walks right up to her one day. “Wow. You’re hot. You should be my girlfriend.” And with that… they are officially a couple.

Jimmy knew one thing about Ms. Perfect: She’s just a girl. A pretty girl… but just a girl. She poops. She farts. She gets sick. She picks her nose. She has dandruff. She drools when she sleeps. She’s human. She has no superpowers. The worst she can do is say no… and who cares? A no from her has no more power than the no he got from mom and dad that morning before school. No more power than his coach that said no yesterday at practice. A no is a one word syllable which just means “Ain’t happening here.. try somewhere else.” Oh, ok. No biggy.

To the sad sap, chatting up Ms. Perfect is a monumental feat in overcoming fear and anxiety. It’s the same as jumping out of a plane. His heart is pumping. He’s thinking of all the right things to say. He doesn’t want to look like a moron.

To Jimmy… it’s just a girl.

 

The Teen Years

As we mature and become horny out-of-control teen boys, the pedestalization gets amplified. We are torn between feelings of romance/love and unbridled testosterone-fueled horniness. We dream of walking hand-in-hand with Ms. Perfect and talking on the phone for hours and going to the movies, and also fantasize about banging her in the basement on the washing machine.  Spin cycle, of course.

Our sap sits around with his buddies, staring at Ms. Perfect during lunch time. “I would eat a mile long trail of her shit just to get to that ass” his friend says. The boys all laugh. It’s hilarious and gross, but the message is clear: She is a goddess. Her value is beyond measure. Oh, the things you would do just to spend five filthy minutes with her.

Oh, great. Tall Jimmy again. He walks right up to Ms. Perfect and puts his arm around her. She leans into him and smiles. Wait, wasn’t he going out with Ms. Hotty last week? What’s he doing with Ms. Perfect today?! Man, these pretty girls just love these assholes.

No… Jimmy is not an asshole. He is just not intimidated. He sees what he wants and goes for it. He learned early on not to be intimidated. He can take rejection from a girl.

Remember, you don’t see the 18 other times he struck out. You just see the home runs.

 

Adulthood

Ironically, it’s rare that our timid hero is NOT married during early adulthood. You’d think he would be the one to not have a woman in his life.. but no. He’s the type that of guy that jumps on the first woman that gives him attention. It just snowballs from there.

Here’s the typical timeline:

  1. They were highschool classmates or met in college.
  2. She asked him out or he was pushed by friends to talk to her.
  3. The attention from her is overwhelmingly positive. He quickly dedicates himself to her. Instant monogamous relationship. What are the chances that he meet the one perfect girl for him… and in math class!? Weird how the universe works.
  4. He hasn’t had a woman before or since he met her.
  5. He deals with many red flags during their relationship but always looks at her good side. He thinks he’s a better person because of this.
  6. She leaves him. She usually cites their early relationship and lack of life experience as a motivation. An affair is discovered. This is usually after children are already in the picture.

This is all a result of the childhood female pedestalization continuing on into adulthood. He stil doesn’t dare approach women, so it took a woman to come to HIM or friends to PUSH him to a woman they feel was a good match. Usually this woman has the more masculine/strong energy to his more feminine/soft energy.

Now that he actually has attained the dream of getting a woman’s attention for more than five minutes, he’ll do whatever he can to keep her around. This is like becoming buddies with a celebrity. “Oh, we’re going to go out and party at 3am and do drugs now? Ok, sounds cool Mr. Rock Star. Can I get a photo of us together for Facebook?”

She eventually grows tired of the lack of resistance and longs for somebody with a little more spunk and backbone. This knocks her guard down and she repeatedly approaches the innapropriate line. It doesn’t take much to convince her to cross the line. Affair time.

But, let’s not beat up the poor guy too much. It’s easy to write him off as just being an anxious dude. But, It’s not all his fault.

 

Society doesn’t help.

As much as we strive for equality between the sexes, we can’t deny that there ARE differences. We try our best to push down the innate biology , but society knows. We all know. We just ain’t the same.

Case in point…

The boat is going down. You have an hour before it goes under completely and everyone dies in the cold Atlantic. Time to deploy the lifeboats. What does the captain yell out?

“Women and children first!”

We’re all well aware of this phrase. It’s been popularized in movies for years. Yes, it does happen in real life.

There’s a basic evolutionary basis behind this phenomenon. As far as survival of the community is concerned, the women and kids are more valuable. Her eggs are scarce and the kids can go on to create lots more kids during their lifetime. Men are a dime a dozen. You could also argue that the men are physically stronger than the women and children and so they have a much higher chance of survival on their own. But in the case of the sinking ship… no amount of testosterone will keep a man from drowning.

Regardless of the reason why, a man who pushes ahead of a woman for a seat on the lifeboat will be severely chastized by his community. Know your place, homeboy.

This “men are disposable” and “women are wonderful” theme permeates everything in our popular culture.

And yes, this disposable/wonderful phenomenon is a form of sexism. It’s a perversion of the biological differences between men and women. It makes the men out to be strong, respected, violent, impulsive and replaceable. Women are more thoughtful, timid, empathetic, silly, disrespected and prized.

For the man who already has a natural inclination to put women on a pedestal… the societal pressure to do so pushes him over the edge into full-blown denial and maybe even an unhealthy level of worship.

 

 

The Friendzone

For the sad sap not in a romantic relationship, he’ll very often have a lot of female friends. Why? They are less threatening to him for one. He doesn’t like the feeling he gets when hanging around other men. He feels intimidated and vulnerable. He’s sensitive to the underlying heirarchy that exists among men… and he’s admittedly at the bottom of the pyramid.

He’s also convinced himself that he can have a more open and honest form of friendship with women. Strip away the testosterone and the stupid male competition and you’re left with honesty and emphathy, right? RIGHT!?!

Our sap hopes to escape the primitive and shallow behavior that he perceives with his male friends… but he doesn’t realize he’s also knee deep in that world with his female friends. He’s just blinded by their beauty and female ways.

Completely platonic male-female relationships are extremely rare. There is normally some form of give and take. Usually he gives and she takes. He has no boundaries. She is fully aware of the dynamic at play.

Girls get their homework done for them. Women get free drinks and a shoulder to cry on.

Our sap probably wishes that he WAS in a romantic relationship with one or more of his female friends. Obviously, he can’t tell them this outright. He hopes that his emotion-laden friendship will win him romantic points and she will eventually open to him, sexually. If he eventually gets up the nerve to ask her out, it will be waaaay too late. Due to his excessively emotional and needy behavior, he has ruined any chance of being romantic with her. He’s just another girlfriend.

He feels used. He feels angry because she’s not seeing that he is the perfect guy for her (silly delicate flower of a girl just can’t understand). He gets mad that the Jimmies of the world who win her affection so easily. Years of pedestalization and worship won’t even get him to first base. Yet, he sticks by her side. In fact he will be there to protect her and listen to her when she cries about her relationships with other men.

He’s on the backburner and he knows it. He’s cool with that… because she’s a woman. She’s on a pedestal.

 

Wake Up

Any of these things sound familiar?

“I never understood what you saw in her. You were way outta her league.”
“Dude… you need to stop being a doormat. She’s taking advantage of you.”
“Why do you put up with that from her?”

You’re as disposable as you want to be. You have value.

Your wife “Wouldn’t do that“? Yes she would. Of course she would. She’s a human. We are all capable of awfulness. She is not different. Her vagina gives her no key to the kingdom of heaven. She’s not a magical being worthy of fear. You don’t have to walk on eggshells around her. Tell her no. Tell her to knock it off. Show her the same respect you give to men… by treating her as an equal.

She’s one of a billion. Knock her ass off the pedestal.