I grew up around lots of women. On my mother’s side the woman to man ratio was over two to one. Having a mother who was stay at home during my formative years meant most of my days were spent in the shade of her and the other heroines of our family.
I remain slightly cynical of couple’s counseling. Which is surprising when you consider half my marriage was spent soaking in its waters; but for the life of me I can’t think of a single nugget of wisdom derived from all those hours on the couch. I’m not entirely hostile to this form of therapy, I’m sure many marriages have been saved through its intervention, I just don’t know of one. And I believe the primary reason for this is by the time most couples get around to seeking help the damage has already been irreversibly done.
Like the overwhelming majority of men, when my ex first suggested we get our own help, I nixed the thought of another sniffing our dirty laundry. I was a management major and had completed our company’s management training program, ergo I was rigorously prepared to fix any problem and especially that of a trifling marital concern. I certainly didn’t need a ‘professional’, for a fee mind you, doing so on our behalf.
I think you can accurately predict the outcome of any therapy session by the mood with which the patient arrives to the appointment. Like a child kicking and screaming on the first day of kindergarten, I had convinced myself this was going to be the longest hour of my life and a ghastly impediment to the enjoyment of my future Sunday afternoons. Considering the final outcome it’s hard to argue with my prophecy.
Of my several gripes the biggest has to do with the competitiveness innate in couple’s therapy. Yet this isn’t altogether surprising, after all two people who often would rather murder each other are in many ways attempting to demonstrate their marital righteousness like two attorney’s standing in front of a judge and jury hoping verdict is rendered in their favor. If she can get the therapist rallying to her cause she can finally prove that he is a jerk for leaving the toilet seat up and as such is guilty for their marriage falling apart.
I experienced this firsthand at our initial session. As she and I took turns presenting our laundry list of reasons why the marriage sucked and putting all the blame at the feet of each other we soon realized that if one was going to gain an upper hand drastic measures must be taken. In so doing, we availed ourselves of the two words that when blended produce the elixir of death for virtually any relationship.
Most of us blindly underestimate the power of our words. Words can miraculously uplift or they can utterly destroy and like Pandora’s box are impossible to return once set free. A relationship begins with mere words, ‘hi’, ‘would you like to go out for coffee?’, and they end in much the same way ‘I never want to see you again, ‘Why did I marry you?’.
Relationships will live – and they will die – by what we say.
After I met the Queen and knew we had the potential for something special, I made a solemn promise to myself that was unlike anything I had ever pledged in relationships before. It was a vow I knew if broken would signal the death knell for our future, though less earth shattering than other pledges it proved to be all the more honorable. I made the decision early on to avoid using those two words I had employed so many Sunday afternoons on that couch. Two words I knew from experience were like match and kindling capable of setting ablaze any relationship. By themselves they are inconsequential, but when said in conjunction they resonate with deathly venom and a deep seeded maliciousness.
The first – you – is designed to separate, single out, and take aim. In the context of a relationship, the word takes the notion of unity and togetherness and tosses it on its head. Used to indict, the word demands walls be erected, defenses be readied, and sides be taken; it draws a line and digs a wide chasm between the couple.
The second word – never – is absolute and biased and says scores are being taken and wrongdoings are always tallied. It sends the message that grace isn’t free and forgiveness isn’t cheap. Use of the word suddenly makes the relationship conditional placing on it qualifiers where before there were none.
When used in tandem with any form of relationship faux pas such as, “you never talk to me”, “you never want sex”, “you never satisfy my needs”, the words serve to draw comparisons while showing insensitivity, selfishness, and a reluctance to see the others point of view. Everything a relationship needs to fail.
There were countless Sunday’s in that therapist’s office where she and I attempted to justify our sentiment by condemning the other for what we perceived as each’s greatest shortcomings. But in the end such brazen criticism only proved to further alienate one another and drive us farther away from any desire to make things work. It’s through those experiences that I can now tell the path a relationship is likely on by how they find fault with each other. When the condemnation only centers on the extremes, it’s a strong signal that person is or has closed himself off to even a possibility for the other to change. If all I can concentrate on is what the Queen doesn’t, how can I ever begin to appreciate what she does?
By eliminating those two words from our relationship vocabulary, we are left no choice but to reconsider our initial approach and tackle the issue at hand from a far more inclusive point of reference. By eliminating you we acknowledge some amount of responsibility and getting rid of never erases any perceived prejudice.
After all these years, I’m convinced it’s one of the simplest yet most effective ways to improve communication between couples. When our words are spoken from a place of peace and surrender instead of attack and counter attack we quickly discover we are listened to more intently and understood more respectfully. And as far as I’m concerned those are never bad things.
This week’s He Said She Said talks about dating after divorce and asking the question, “to bed or not to bed?”
If you’re divorced the time is already here or will come when decide to see what’s out there. But you probably find things are much different than the last time you were on the dating scene.
So how do divorcees navigate the world of dating and and the world sex?
The 2006 release of the book The Secret took the self-help world by storm leaving 21 million copies sold in the wake of this motivational tempest. You may have your own, I do. A marketing wonder, the design of its cover made the reader feel like they held wisdom of the ages in their hand. Yet its premise, the law of attraction, is as old as the self-help movement. At its foundation the secret of The Secret is this, to get everything we want from life the first step is to act ‘as if’ we are already have it in our possession. In other words the ability to visualize money in the bank, Ferrari in the driveway, or those cute new Jimmy Choo’s in the closet in order to make them reality.
It’s happens all the time and I usually see it coming before it arrives, like visualizing an accident moments before the cars collide. It now occurs with such frequency the Queen and I prepared a canned response for anyone who asks… “We want to give ya’ll something to worry about!”
I’ve never considered myself a coordinated person. I’ve never accomplished anything of dexterity much more skilled than walking and chewing gum at the same time. But that changed when I became a single dad. Overnight coordination and organization became necessities. And add to that new reality the responsibilities of an employee, boss, and managing the nuances of dating again after being off the market for a decade and I turned into a one-man juggling and tight rope-walking act.
There is an ample supply of single fathers in the world. With a divorce rate, depending upon whom you ask, at or above 50% there is an over abundance of them. And with such large numbers in the dating pool, the odds of a woman meeting and dating one of these single fathers is better than anything in you’ll get in Vegas. In fact I think it’s directly proportionate to her age; a twenty-five year old has about a 25% chance of dating a single dad and that number gets exponentially higher when she reaches her forties. But single father doesn’t mean ‘good’ single father and for every good one out there I can show you four who aren’t worth a flip, and if a woman is thinking about dating these divorced dads how good of a dad he is becomes the best barometer she’s got.
I haven’t always been the best dad – or man. Providence saw to it that I divorced when my kids were excruciatingly young (10 months and two and a half years), which in hindsight was a blessing because the first year after my divorce was anything but illustrious. But the real godsend was being able to hide my mistakes behind their innocence and youth, which allowed me to learn from and figure some things about me before my kids were old enough to pay close attention.
Several years ago I started living by the conviction that I can only be as good a man as I am a father and vice-a-verse. What I mean is that I can’t be a good man and be a lousy dad. Fatherhood and manhood are fundamentally intertwined. Can someone who is cheating on his wife be a good father or a guy who has abandoned his children be a good man? And this is a fundamental fact that I think far too many women fail to grasp or recognize. Because any woman who will accept a man she knows isn’t fulfilling his fatherly responsibilities not only compounds the problem – she becomes the problem.
Dating a single father comes with oodles of known and unknown obstacles, and women without children usually have the hardest time overcoming them. The baggage a single dad carries on board won’t fit in the overhead compartment. I would immediately notice this tension if I was dating someone without kids and I had to change or cancel plans or I couldn’t do something on account of my mine. I could sense the confusion and dismay in their voice as if I had bailed on them because I was having a bad hair day.
There’s two things, what dating a single dad probably is like and what dating one should be like and usually these experiences don’t correspond. A man whose actions and behaviors reflect his responsibilities will exude specific characteristics and so a relationship with him comes with certain predictabilities. Being a single dad for almost eight years, a really bad one and who the Queen says is now a good one; I’ve identified five universal characteristics or experiences women should expect from dating a quality single dad.
You won’t always be #1 – prepare yourself to play second chair, often. His children were first and there will certainly be times when they take precedence over whatever you might have going on. While this intrinsically sounds understandable it often becomes unsettling when one stops to think how long it takes kids to grow up. But don’t jump to conclusions. If he is thinking long term, he knows that kids grow up and move away so he should have a healthy balance between you and them. And you should remain flexible.
Be prepared to listen – Throw in anger, resentment, guilt, and a dash of pity and you’ve got enough ingredients for an episode of Dr. Phil. Co-parenting is challenging and doing so with someone you would often rather push into moving traffic is harder. After eight years I still get frustrated, exhausted, and need the Queen to be my rock to lean on, shoulder to cry on, and ear to scream in.
Lean times ahead – Child support and alimony are Hungarian words for “remove my wallet via my ass”. A divorced father who is fulfilling his financial obligations will inherently have less disposable income. It’s part of the territory. So when your DINK (Dual Income No Kids) friends are living it up with trips to Fiji you may have to settle for a Labor Day weekend getaway to Cleveland.
Think long term – If you date a single dad by default you are a step mom. Don’t let that freak you out; but if you are in his children’s lives they look to you as a role model, whether they or you know it. That means paying attention to the domino effect of parenting. What you do today will come back around later – in the form of the kids’ behavior and actions. Parenting is so much about being mindful enough to stay above the moment and understand what happens today often has bigger impacts tomorrow. Plus kids can’t keep secrets, so when their teacher asks where they learned that dirty word don’t be surprised if you get thrown under the bus.
Drama is a’coming – If he is a single dad that likely means there is a single mom. Some of the craziest women I have ever known are divorced mothers; and mom madness gets intensified when she feels threatened by daddy’s new ‘girlfriend’. Not all drama is such a bad thing, that means she is paying attention but be prepared for a bit of ex-wife excitement at times.
I’m biased, but I believe a relationship with a quality, divorced father can be the most fulfilling of any. There is just something special about men who know their responsibilities, where they are going, how they will get there, and understand what’s important and what’s not. Unfortunately there are lots of single dads who haven’t gotten there yet and many others never will. But I’m convinced these five characteristics should tell you that you’ve landed one of the good ones.
Confidence is the universal aphrodisiac. Women say it’s the number one trait they look for in a man, followed closely by humor. Men are essentially no different; a pretty girl who lacks confidence is like to a CEO with a limp handshake. In both cases you walk away dissatisfied feeling like you’ve been bait and switched.
I can predict with uncanny accuracy the emotional strength and depth of a man’s relationship with his wife or girlfriend in the way he responds to this question:
“Tell me about her?”
On the surface it’s a simple enough inquiry, a few innocuous words used in everyday language to gain a better understanding about anyone or anything; and certainly not some underhanded tactic to lure a man into stepping on his Johnson. But the point is this. The first words he uses to describe her will tell me everything – it tells me what he values most in her.
- “She’s beautiful”
- “She’s a great mom.”
- “She’s really fun.”
There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these answers. All are qualities every man wants, or should at least, in a significant other and each are traits that testify to the splendor womanhood. But would anyone agree these or any number of similar superficial motives be reason enough to commit a life to someone?
I’ve asked this same question to scores of men, those in long-term relationship and others who’ve just met someone. It’s the same question anyone might ask. And the unfortunate thing is that few answers I received lead me to believe the man has honestly considered why he is with who he is with. And what’s even more regrettable, I don’t think women are much different.
Every man, whether he knows it or not, has a certain set of characteristics he desires in a woman. For many, especially younger men, it begins and ends with the physical, giving little if any consideration to what will be left when the pretty face wears off. For example every time, and I do mean every time, he immediately responds with ‘she’s hot!’ you can guarantee that relationship will not last. Why? He’s far too enamored with her goddess looks to possess the capacity for ever moving beyond the superficial. But when the moment comes where he looks at her and doesn’t notice her stunning beauty any longer, he’ll be left wondering “Why am I with this woman?”
Any attribute, be it looks, career, physique, or personality are merely what grabs his attention; it can never be enough keep him committed. Unless there is a deeper inspiration within him, any surface level motivation will eventually wear thin. Here’s how I know this, ask almost any man who’s been in a long term relationship or marriage why he’s with who he’s with and the reason he gives will be different than when they first met. Shallowness can never be the necessary glue to hold two people together for a lifetime. I believe this notion is best described in a poster I saw once over a urinal at a sports bar; the image was a beautiful woman in a string bikini. The caption underneath read,
“She may be beautiful now, but somebody somewhere is sick and tired of putting up with her shit.”
Unless the man has a profound awareness and understanding of why he chose her over the others, and calls back to that if and when the relationship begins to waver, that romance will ultimately meets its demise, literally or metaphorically.
Had you asked me a decade ago why I was with my now ex-wife I couldn’t have given you an answer. As far as I was concerned I merely did what every other thirty something American male was supposed do. I found the first woman, loosely based on what I thought I was looking for, that seemed compatible at the time, drank the Kool-aide, and then did what I was told from that point on. Even today aside from those shallow motivations I can’t explain what it was that led, and then kept, me in the relationship for ten years. And I before anyone grasp how pitiful that is.
If relationships and marriages need performance evaluations the first question on the review should be this,
“Why are you with who you are with?”
Intuitively this seems such an obvious thing; we are investing the hours and days of our limited life to be with another human being, shouldn’t we know why we are doing it? Should we not have a clear understanding of what exactly it is about this person that generates such feelings of loyalty and passion? And for the record, anyone who believes the Hollywood induced notion that ‘because I love them’ is enough hasn’t reached the necessary maturity level to fully understand what relationships are all about.
I’m convinced this is a question that we should ask ourselves often paying extremely close attention to our response. If we can’t articulate why we are with the person in terms that don’t come off sounding like an infomercial, we should begin trying harder. Being with someone because they are a good ‘provider’ or a ‘she has a great job’ is about like wearing a shirt because it brings out your eyes. What happens if he stops being a good provider or she loses her job? Is it any wonder why after a failed relationship we lament, “They aren’t the person I once met?” If our relationship is based on purely bourgeois qualities then no one will be the person we first met.
I could provide a laundry list of reasons why I became interested in the Queen, including her beauty, her passion, kindness, her artistic talents, or her soft nature. But none of them are the reasons why she is still my Queen today.
The Queen is the only woman I have ever met who by her mere presence in my life makes me want to be a better man – for her, my children, myself, and for those around me.
And as far as I’m concerned that is a quality which will last forever.