The Missing Stair

Everything is the best. Or it's the worst. There is no middle ground. There's no in-between.

This is 2014.

This is the world the internet has created.

And I'm sure there are those who think it's the worst thing to happen to least since video games ruined our youth...or a television in every home rotted people's brains...or the printing press turned a generation or hard-working farm kids into lazy sods seeking to escape into fantasy.

Blame Twitter. Blame Facebook. Blame every internet site on the world that sacrificed journalistic integrity in favor of articles that drive page views with open comment sections where people can share there inane opinions in the most obnoxious ways possible because speaking with reason and intellect will not be tolerated when you can boldly declare in all caps that someone is JUST LIKE HITLER.

The rise of the internet has led to the rise of niche. There's no need to be diverse. Like a certain type of music? Then why listen to anything else? Better yet, why not get angry at anyone who dares to listen to anything else? Why not proclaim that what you like is better? And proclaim it LOUDLY? While also letting it be known that the other stuff SUX. It SUX just like HITLER.

The American political spectrum has never been more bifurcated. There are no more elected moderates. There's no room for seeing both sides. You have to join a team. You're either crusading for FREEDOM or EQUALITY. And anyone who doesn't agree is either LAZY COMMIE GOD-HATERS or GREEDY SELFISH BIBLE-BEATING FASCISTS.

Every single discussion we have--especially online--is taken to extremes. To the point that just having an original opinion or thought is enough to make your best friend hold a grudge because you dared to speak up. Every athlete is the best or a COMPLETE FUCKING FAILURE. True Detective is amazing and if you suggest it's just a B+ that could use some work then you DON'T FUCKING GET IT. Woody Allen is a monster and anyone who likes his work SUPPORTS RAPE CULTURE. Philip Seymour Hoffman was a genius and the Marlon Brando of his generation and if you suggest that Brando would have never acted in a dystopian trilogy for teenage girls then you are an INSENSITIVE PRICK. The Wolf of Wall Street is overrated and anyone who says otherwise is a SLEAZY HORNBALL or PRETENTIOUS SNOB.

If you don't like what someone is doing in any aspect of life--even some online competition--there is no longer a need to live and let be. There is wrong. There is right. There is no gray. And if you don't rally instantaneously to let everyone know what side you're on, then you might be left behind. Neutralize all threat. Destroy or humiliate everyone on the other side. Nothing else will be tolerated.

There is no more middle. It's left or right. Bottom or top. No room for mixed opinion. It's been eradicated.



She was great when it came to sex.

That's what I thought as I watched her dress. As she shimmied back into her sheer black panties. As she pulled on her white cowl-necked sweater and short suede skirt.

The way she put both hands on my chest and threw her head back. Her blond hair whipping about wildly. Her eyes closed as she gave in to her desire.

It's not why I was with her. It's not even why we stayed together for a year.

But it was something.

"I didn't come here expecting to get dumped tonight," she said.

She clumsily pulled her boots on. There were tears in her voice.

There was nothing I could say. I offered apologies. I made excuses.

But it was nothing.

Why didn't I feel something for her?

I knew why I didn't feel something for her.

Because of someone else.

Someone from before.

Someone I couldn't let go.

Someone she could never be.

I was never ready for someone else. Never ready to move on.

I'd known the end was coming. But she had no idea. I'd never told her how I felt.

She walked out of the door and out of my life forever.

We weren't going to be friends. I'd done too much to wound her.

Her earrings were still on the nightstand.

Two years later I sat on my couch.

A different girl stood in front of me.

We weren't even dressed when she told me.

I guess she'd wanted one for the road. Or felt a sympathy fuck was in the cards.

She hastily stuffed her bra in her purse. Pulled a pale blue shirt over her bare breasts.

"But why?" I asked.

There were tears in my voice.

Eighteen months. I had no idea. She'd never told me how she felt.

"Because of him," she said. "I never got over him. I wasn't ready for someone else. I wasn't ready to move on."

She wiggled into her jeans. Offered apologies. Made excuses.

She tried to placate me with a hug.

And she walked out of my door.

And out of my life forever.

It wasn't funny.

But I had to laugh.

When did it all go wrong?

When did it all go wrong? In the past few weeks? Months ago? Years?

Was it a professional choice? A decision to move? Something in college? Earlier than that?

You trace the path backward and still can't find that one single point. The one that marks the beginning. The beginning from which all other decisions lead down a connected path of regrets.

The point where everything got fucked up.

I've worked with people my whole life--at least until recently--who always want to assign the blame to someplace else. But if the situation keeps changing, yet you get the same result--another boss that is mean to you, co-workers that don't understand, something or another not being some point it's time to look at the common denominator and realize that maybe it's not the whole world having a problem...and maybe your life is no less fair than anyone else's...and maybe it's time to start looking back at your own choices that have put you in the position you're in.

I've never been depressed. At least I don't think so. And I know there are these lists that circulate the internet and pop up on facebook where the basic premise is "here's a list of things you shouldn't say to someone who is depressed, and if you are saying them it just shows them you're a self-centered asshole who only really cares about how things relate to you as opposed to actually genuinely caring about your friend/relation/lover/co-worker/etc."

And yet everyone does it. "Stop feeling sorry for yourself. People are worse off than you. Go make yourself happy. It's your own fault."

And I know it's a dick thing to say to anyone when the proper option is to ask how you can help and try to understand.

But sometimes I have a hard time feeling sympathy for other people.

Especially people who are educated and employed. I can understand people who've had bad break after bad break and never been given an opportunity. But plenty of people I know--everyone I choose to have in my immediate life away from work--tends to make something of the opportunities presented. So I don't get those who self-destruct...and then blame everyone else for the promotion that never came or not getting the best assignment or whatever else.

Maybe I'm a secret Republican on the inside.

(no subject)

More and more lately I feel like my life is in a rut.

When you say you’re in a rut, the typical response is that you have to find a way out of it and make change happen. But in my case, change is what seems to be the problem. I’m in a rut of constant change and upheaval. Whether it’s been change in relationship or career or location or trying to meet some personal goal. I feel like I’ve spent the past 15 years in constant motion and not doing enough living—and in my 30s, that’s started to bother me substantially.

If I went back in time and told the 22 year old version of myself that a month before my 35th birthday I still would have never traveled farther away from home than Canada and Central America, the young me would have shot himself in the fucking head. I never sought fulfillment from a career—just money—but that was supposed to enable adventure and world travel and maybe even living abroad pursuing some philanthropic cause. I thought I’d live someplace cool and pretty—not spend a decade in Dallas Effing Texas—a place that’s been good to me in terms of career and the people I’ve met, but surely isn’t a cool city or a charming city or a beautiful place to live. Even in my mid-twenties I thought I’d still see all 50 states before turning 30, but somewhere that pace just stalled. The last time I went somewhere new was 2009.

There was a time in my early twenties when I thought every little bump in the road was some obstacle life was throwing at me. If I got a speeding ticket or my air conditioner wasn’t working right I felt almost like a victim cursed by the gods. But I eventually got past that and realized that it’s just life as a grown up. Shit happens, to use the cliché. And it will never stop happening. There will always be stress from work. There will always be unexpected things that go wrong at work. And there will always be bad luck incidents—like a dry cleaner losing my suit I took to have cleaned the day before a job interview. And I don’t attribute any of that to any ridiculous philosophy like “meant to be,” because I don’t believe in that either. It’s just that things happen. And they should not be an excuse to get stressed out. Nor should they be an impediment to living life.

So much of my life has been about “I will do this” and making plans for a future that often don’t come together. I spent my first year here focused on improving myself physically—not smoking, rarely drinking, exercising daily, getting a full night of sleep, not eating sugar, avoiding fried food, avoiding red meat, and not eating carbohydrates or heavy meals for dinner. And I felt great at the time. But even something like that is a struggle to maintain. I spent 2008 focused on making better decisions—particularly in terms of relationships, but also life in general. I’ve switched jobs multiple times. I’ve moved homes several times since I left college. And all this time I keep looking at the list of things I want to do and saying “maybe next year I’ll do X and someday I’ll do Y.” I did more in college when I was always broke than I do now when I have means and not much holding me back except having to show up to work 47 weeks a year.

There are people who will look back at their best stories in life and their favorite memories and it’s just some random tale about a night at the bar with the same old people they see all the time. And that just seems sad to me. It’s not something that ever satisfied me. Similarly, I’m not someone who will ever be telling the story of the Big Work Project and have it be my defining moment. Work talk is for the office. And you’re supposed to work to enjoy life. Not live life for work. I don’t get the American attitude I see a lot where people mock the Europeans and Canadians for their 7 weeks of vacation and paternity leave for new fathers and extended maternity leave. Isn’t that what life is supposed to be about? Enjoying things? Having fun?

All I know is that the closer I get to 35—less than two months now—I feel old. And like I haven’t done much of what I want. I don’t want more change or to feel like I’m on a journey to get to a place where I can enjoy life—but I don’t want to feel settled, either. I still crave adventure and fun and silliness and to be impulsive.

But it seems like at this point the only way to be impulsive is through planning—kind of a contradictory idea—and making sure things happen. Saying “this is 2012, I’m going and doing something new. And next year I’m doing 2 big things and making sure they happen. And every year after.”

And then making sure that I don’t find excuses to not let that happen.

Because if I turn 40 and still haven't seen Mt. McKinley or swam in Hawaii, I think I'll just have to quit everything and go walkabout like Jules...

(no subject)

I sometimes wonder if anyone will really love and understand me. If someone will take the time to get to know me and make my interest their own—or at least pretend to—and care more about my feelings and wishes and dreams more than their own.

Or does anyone ever really find that? Is it a myth?

It’s possible that all people are only concerned with their own self-worth and their own needs.

But I think I’ve seen it before with one people. I’m certain my parents have that type of relationship. And I have aunts & uncles with that dynamic. And even at least one set of married friends who I truly believe feel that way. Where he or she would hop in a car without thinking about it and drive 500 miles to stay with their significant other because they’re job is keeping them out of town for the weekend and they just don’t want them to be lonely or they think it would be a good surprise.

If you work with someone—and everyone has—who cries regularly at the office, it seems like that person would eventually get the picture that everyone else is not persecuting them. They are the problem. Which, really, should be evident. You know, based on the fact that THEY ARE CRYING AT THE FUCKING OFFICE. If you’re always in the midst of drama then it’s not the rest of the world that’s the problem—it’s you.

Using that logic, if I say that I can’t find the type of deep connection to friends, co-workers, partners, family members, and all the rest of the world, it would be completely insane to assume there is something wrong with everyone else. The problem is mine, right? Whether it’s some combination of bad luck and just not meeting the people with whom I connect or just some personality quirk that makes me the kind of person that people like, but only in that instantly forgettable way that they like a generic pop song that’s popular for a month and then forgotten until it pops up on some retrospective or in a movie.

In my adult life I feel like I’ve had two serious, committed, long term relationships where I had something resembling that deep connection. And by “deep connection” I mean that we’ve invested the time it takes to get there—at least 6 months of seeing each other almost daily and spending more nights together than apart—and after reaching that point they’ve learned my quirks and positives and negatives and idiosyncrasies and embracing them all. And both happened after 30. My post-college adult relationships before moving to Texas did NOT have that connection. And neither did my first real relationship here—the longest of my adult life—which ended miserably and never should have gotten to that point once I realized that we were leading to separate lives and that only one of us cared about making the other person happy—the other just wanted to be waited on and have her every dream handed to her without resistance.

The first of those relationships started when I was 30. And I fucked that one up for sure. She could have catered to my every whim and fantasy—and she often tried—but I was so damaged from the rejection of a previous relationship that I could never stop waiting for the other shoe to fall. I couldn’t believe that someone would be that interested and constantly amused by me.

The second one started when I was 31, and that time I was ready. But I still probably screwed that one up, too. Because in the end I KNEW that she would do anything for me. And I took advantage of that too often without returning the favor. I made excuses to NOT be there on two or three occasions. And I failed to recognize things that were starting to stress her in her life and even the relationship and address them because I was too caught up in my own world and work and just not paying attention.

It’s harder as you get older. Which leads me to worrying that it will never happen. Because we become more set in our ways and stubborn and resistant to change. And we become more damaged and carry scars from the past and look at everything in a cynical way as is we’re searching for patterns and reasons for things to fail.

But we can also do the opposite. We can blame ourselves too much for past failures and go through life trying to over-compensate. And that doesn’t seem too healthy, either.

Walking Out

Have you ever walked out of a place knowing it was likely the last time and expected to feel something and there was just nothing there? Maybe you stop at a store you regularly visited in the area--or crossed paths with someone you see irregularly--and when they say "see you around" you just kind of snicker on the inside and think "not likely?" And in your brain you think that you should be feeling something. That there is probably a moment to be savored. That you should feel hurt, or a sense of failure, or disappointment. Or maybe the opposite--you should be happy and excited. But there's nothing there. At least nothing strong.

I sometimes wonder if I have a switch that just flicks off. Because I feel so intensely and so passionately about things and people and situations in my life, I wonder if it's a defense mechanism to prevent pain. And then I wonder if this is a healthy way of doing things. It it a way of avoidance--the way some people move from relationship to relationship so they don't have to deal with the pain of a break up and can instantly find someone else to boost there self esteem? Or is it the opposite--a smart way of handling things and allowing the brain to make decisions with logic and reason and without letting emotion play a part? Either way, I wrote 3 or 4 days ago about me need for significance and to feel like people are taking an interest in me and what I want, and I sometimes find that there is a point where my subconscious calculates that my needs are not being met and that I can no longer deal with the situation--and then I just check the fuck out.

My breakups--the one's instigated by me--have often been a fucking mess. But that's seldom been my fault. Because at that point I've become so numb that I state my feelings honestly and refuse to get drawn into a fight. But I've had a shoe thrown at me a few years ago for telling someone I thought we should just be friends. And I've had other people act childish and nasty and say hurtful things. (Of course, I can't say I'm much different when the breakup is NOT my idea...I've never been particularly nasty or hurtful, but I've definitely been an emotional basket case who has a hard time letting go...when maybe I should just show some pride and hope they realize what they're missing and change their mind....)

The first time I left a professional job as an adult I was 27 and I remember feeling elated. That had more to do with the place I was living than the job itself. Living in a small town didn't suit me--I need to move on. The next time I left a job I was still pretty happy and excited, although there was more mixed emotions because I was no longer going to be working around people I genuinely liked and there was fear I wasn't going to like the new job--which turned out to be true.

Since then? I don't know that I've had significant feelings worth mentioning. There's always been some disappointment and some worry about change. Sometimes there's been excitement about more money or a better opportunity...but not tons. It was more an empty feeling. And maybe a frustration that I felt like I wasted time. Like I could have spent those years doing something better--either in my actual life or in my professional life--and instead I was going over to start from scratch again. Even though it's never really been starting from scratch. I've always left for a better position, better company, and typically more money.

None of this is to say that I exist without feelings or regrets. But there is nothing about which I feel terribly embarrassed. Most of my embarrassing stories are more of the humblebrag variety--like "we knew that someone might catch us in there, but we still started fooling around and then the door opened while we were undressed...." I've known people who live with past embarrassment. I once dated someone who quit a job in terms that can best be described as "not very professional." She slipped in after hours, took all her shit, and left a note. Or maybe she didn't even leave a note--she just stopped showing up. Six months later we ran into her old boss in Dallas one night and he was perfectly cordial and didn't mention anything about it--and as soon as he left she was bawling and angry and embarrassed about the whole situation. I can't imagine any choices I've made that would lead to something like that.

Certainly there are things that I regret. Decisions I've made in the past year as well as decisions and choices made long ago. And the only thing they have in common is that I can't do a damn thing about them now. You can always course correct and hope for the best, but that doesn't change the past. Money spent is money that was already spent and you'll never see again. The past is the past and if you're lucky you learn something from it...if not, you just live with the scars and hope they don't affect the choices you make going forward. Lost time is always lost. Youth can't be repeated. The best you can do is be smart enough not to sulk about the things that you can no longer change...even if you do sometimes wonder how life could have been different if you'd been willing to look at yourself in the mirror and make hard choices in the moment rather than waiting until things were done and rationalizing away your own mistakes and blaming everything on someone else.

Still, I feel like sometimes it is dangerous to detach from the moment. In the same way it's dangerous in a relationship--romantic or professional--to yell things you don't really mean or become condescending and sarcastic when you know that ultimately you both want the best for the other person. Or at least you did at one point, and that's why you ended up together in the first place. I've been very good, mostly, about controlling my harshest feelings in work situations no matter the situation. And I do my best to never burn bridges, even as I walk out the door. And if everyone else asked that way than maybe work would be easier to enjoy. Unfortunately, I see way too many people who are only there to fulfill their own selfish ego rather than work as a team, develop and mentor younger employees, and be successful as a group. I dream of a place where that doesn't describe it just an American thing, or is it the whole world? Maybe when I find that I'll work on fixing my off switch so that it's not always ready to flip over and I can focus more on commitment and being emotionally involved.

Until then, I'm not opening myself up too far just so someone else can cut me when I have my defenses down.

My Need to Matter

I possess a fairly significant need for external validation to make me feel good and important.

I see this mostly as a fault--in myself and when it exists in other people. I think one's validation and feelings of self-worth and happiness should be internally motivated. If you can't be happy completely alone in life, then you are not truly happy.

But it's hardly a rare fault--we all know those people who do things for friends out of obligation more than because they want to do them or who live and die for a pat on the back and some token added responsibility from the boss.

On the positive side, I'm aware that it exists, and I mostly accept it. Which makes me better off than the the large majority of people who seem to be comfortable denying their own personality issues. Everyone, for example, has probably worked with that one person who always seems to be in the middle of drama and can't seem to put two and two together and realize that if they're butting heads with the entire world that they may be the root cause of the drama in the first place. Everyone has probably known at least one person who is way too invested in some crutch, like being the most crusading-est religious zealot of ever. Or going home and blacking out off liquor every night just to "relax." Or trying to become the best PTA mom ever or the most passionate little league dad because they've given up on their own life and are living vicarious through their offspring. I think if you can't sit down and honestly list "here are five things about me that are kind of shitty and I need to work on them," you're probably in for a frustrating life full of misunderstanding. I say this as someone who spent too many years with a person who did not realize how self-destructive she was--and probably still doesn't know despite blowing up multiple relationships, burning professional bridges, having fall outs with blood relatives, and ending up with a failed marriage that didn't even last three years. You probably can't erase your weaknesses, but you at least need to know and understand them.

I've taken two fairly extensive psychological evaluations in the past month for work meant to evaluate our strengths, among other things. Which is how they consider "significance"--which is their term for that need for external validation. And it was actually not near the top of my list. It was somewhere down near the middle. Which also makes sense. I feel the need to be the object of someone's affection in a relationship--for them to be passionate and have that "you're the best ever" feeling about me. And I feel the need to be recognized as brilliant and witty in general. But I've never sought approval from my parents. At some point in my life, I was probably overly concerned about approval from my friends--mostly whether they liked who I was dating. And maybe at some point I felt that hipster need to have them approve and envy my taste in movies, music, and art. But that shit hasn't really mattered to me since turning 30. And while I want to be respected at work and expect people to have a positive opinion of me--because, really, one would have to be a moron to not realize my brilliance--I'm not one of those people who needs to be recognized with awards and frankly don't like the attention that goes with something like that. I don't need or want a lot of praise. I just want to get fucking paid and have my salary increase. Title doesn't even matter to me--though I've worked with plenty of people who cared more about making title than making money.

From a strength perspective, the need for validation (or Significance), can be seen as a positive rather than a negative because people who have that need will go out of their way and work harder to earn it. On a personal level, I want to give the person I'm dating surprises--even if it's just picking up breakfast or sending a nice note. I want to give my friends and family thoughtful gifts. I want to be there on special occasions. In the work place, people who need validation will work harder out of fear of not being recognized. Again, that doesn't sound too healthy to me...I've never had a problem with people busting my balls about leaving early or taking vacation or skipping bullshit meetings. I don't care about perception in that way. But I think it's probably healthy to look at any weakness and see the strengths that come with it.

(For the record, here is how the evaluations define a person who is seeking external validation or significance: You want to be very significant in the eyes of other people. In the truest sense of the word you want to be recognized. You want to be heard. You want to stand out. You want to be known. In particular, you want to be known and appreciated for your uniqueness. You feel a need to be admired and successful. You will push people to recognize your significance--and if they do not you will move on. Your yearnings feel intense to you..............OK, that DOES sometimes sound like me professionally. If only because I get pissed if I'm told to do something someone else's way when mine is better--this happened at my last job--and I will absolutely turn off and move on if I don't feel appreciated. Though that also applies to friendships, relationships, etc...)

For the most part, though, I can not find validation through work. Or at least not on my current path. If money were no object, I could quit and do some kind of humanitarian job or research or education and make very little money and be thrilled by my work every single day...but that would require other sacrifices.

I did not grow up poor. But we were far from rich. We weren't hungry. I didn't want for anything. We usually went on a few trips a year--one was almost always to Florida, which was a short drive, and where we stayed four to a room in a Holiday Inn--not the Hilton--or an affordable condo with a kitchen so we didn't have to eat meals out. And the other would usually be a long weekend to the mountains in Georgia or Tennessee or North Carolina--where we often just camped. We did not dine out much in general. We did not buy clothes at the mall--I had the off brand sneakers that would get you teased mercilessly as a boy in school in the late 80s. We didn't go out to the movies--we rented videos at home with microwave popcorn. I didn't have a college fund.

This wasn't a bad life by any means. But it definitely shaped my priorities on how I save money and shaped my career path. I remember in high school and college when I'd go out with friends to restaurants and always look for the cheapest thing on the menu regardless of what I might have wanted because I needed to budget. And that's the position I never wanted to be in again. I recognize that some people are very happy doing something they love for less money--but most I know also struggle and have a lot of stress from finances. I did not want that for me. My savings goals and spending habits and career motivation has always been about having money to one day take care of a fictional family that I may never have, to travel extensively--because that is clearly what makes me happiest at life, to get the things I want or need, and to not have to bargain hunt ever. I don't have an absurdly expensive car, a crazy home theater system, a McMansion, or any of the other things that people care about...but I'm very content with my material possessions. And if I drop my iPod in a puddle tomorrow I can go buy a new one without thinking about it. And if I total my car I can buy a new one without worrying about a financial strain.

But there are still higher priorities in life. I have definitely made a poor choice professionally once by chasing money. And I've not made that mistake again. In recent years I've made two pretty huge career decisions that have cost me money, but made me happier because I got to be closer to friends. And, really, not moving away last year when I had the chance to make more money and maybe live some place I'd enjoy was also about being close to friends. I come from a working class family and my basic concerns in life are being happy and having plenty of time for the people I care about outside of work. It's a cliche, but nobody ever sat on their death bed going "I wish I'd spent more time at the office." And when you die, the people at work aren't going to give a shit or remember what a good job you did--the world moves on--but I have fond memories about the relatives I've had die because they were good people who made time for their family. And those don't fade.

I don't believe at all in ladder climbing at work. And that trait is common to a lot of my friends and peers from college--all of whom are smart. But, outside of the bosses at work, I know very few people in my personal life who can truly say their ambitious. Because to be the best at something you have to be willing to go in at 7 every day and leave at 7 that night. At least in every place I've ever worked. And my friends are more about getting home to their family--I've had at least 2 male friends change jobs in recent years for that reason. And countless female friends over the past decade. And as far as earning title and becoming a "manager," maybe that's something that works if you have a degree in accounting--where moving up is just doing the same job on a larger scale. Or if you have the generic business degree. But if you get a specific, professional degree in college, I think most people want to stay in that area if it's something like engineering, advertising, architecture, law, medicine, marketing, human resources, teaching, etc...and I have no aspiration to be someone who spends 10 hours a day at work bouncing from administrative meeting to administrative meeting and spends all their time doing paperwork and not actually adding any value or solving any problems. (In the engineering world there is a term for management and super-vision: non-value added. That's not a joke. All overhead costs are non-value added, you have a better product/company by eliminating and streamlining management.)

I've met a lot of people recently for whom work is the driving force in life and their sole source for validation and achievement. As a result, I've met a lot of:

A) Single Women - Because career women in most cases make sacrifices in terms of family, or they intimidate career men who feel the need to be the dominant/successful one in the relationship. And in general they fail to make enough quality time in their relationship.

B) Women with Spineless Husbands - See above. Most of the driving career women I've known are married to guys who are "artists" or "in sales" (aka, retail, used car) or "food service" (baristas @ Starbucks).

C) Men Who are On Marriage #2 or #3 and who have trophy wifes whose highest ambition is to be Suzy Homemaker - Because, honestly, you never meet a type-A driven guy who is single. They can't stand to be single. So the keep getting married and those marriage fail because, again, they can't make quality time for their relationship. Think of Larry King. Or Donald Trump. Or that boss you've had--and I've had plenty--who tell stories like "yeah, it broke my daughter's heart last night that I was here instead of at her school play--I guess they think money grows on trees" (followed by wild laughter).

I don't believe that power couples work. And I'm not saying it's impossible--there are exceptions to everything. But for a really, really successful relationship I think--I know--that you have to be willing to make sacrifices in your life and you have to put your spouse--and then your kids--above everything else. The most famous power couple in America is probably the Clintons--and that is obviously a failed marriage filled with years of infidelity. Infidelity that was alleged to still be taking place as Hillary ran for president in 2008 by the many journalists covering the campaign and noting the b-level actresses and models that traveled with Bill to his humanitarian efforts and campaign stops. Even if you look at the Obamas, Michelle was an Ivy grad and an attorney--who stopped practicing to have a family and support her husband's ambition. I could never ask someone to do that. I don't want someone to sacrifice everything for me. I want someone to sacrifice some things--and realize that I'll do the same--so we can both be happy. Even if that means I don't get to live 20 minutes from my parents or on a beach in Ecuador like I'd prefer. Because, again, I know I'd be happiest professionally dedicating my life to saving orphans or some humanitarian effort that wouldn't pay shit. But I would give that up to provide for a family.

When you ask people to guess why the divorce rate is so high, it's not the obvious answer like infidelity or someone being a jerk. Those are more effects and not causes--you behave like an asshole and/or cheat because you're unsatisfied and that manifests itself passive-aggressively. But if you look up the leading factor for divorces they always go like this:

A) Money - Like I said above, sacrificing financial security leads to a lot of stress. It leads to a lot of fighting when you have to make tough decisions about where to cut costs--or even when you can't agree on savings goals.

B) Communication - At some point you have to learn to accept the shortcomings and quirks in your partner and how to discuss things without it getting heated. On top of that, you have to be able to express clearly your dedication to a relationship and your feelings about things--because if you're going off in different directions and don't realize it, eventually you'll find a gulf in between you that you can't breach. (That, by the way, is the reason one of my longest adult relationships failed...and probably my first love relationship...we wanted different things, we pursued those things separately, and then when we realized we were on different pages were angry that the other person didn't understand. I work hard now to try and communicate exactly what I'm thinking. Also, I've had an adult relationship fail because of financial strain).

C) Not Making Enough Quality Time Together -- Again, I go back to a boss I had first out of college who never made time for his daughter...which eventually led to his wife leaving him a few years later. It sounds fucking stupid. I remember the first time one of my friends was telling me she was growing apart from her boyfriend that she was living with in her early 20s. And my response was "you guys eat dinner together and sleep together and are around each other all weekend, right?" And her response was "Yeah, but it's not the same...I can't explain it but it's not." But it does make perfect sense. It doesn't have to be extravagant. But I do think mature relationships need things like Date Night. When there are kids, you have to spend time with them. And you can incorporate small, meaningful gestures...whether it's a thoughtful, surprise note for no reason, a small getaway weekend, spending time taking interest in something a spouse likes--whether it's a sporting even, a musical, or hanging out with their friends, or just sending flowers or making their favorite meal or celebrating a special day. One of the few bosses I've had who was a workaholic and did NOT have a failed marriage (though he did have a Suzy Homemaker wife) told me it worked for 20+ years because they made a pact early on--he could work 15 hours a day during the week, but she got Saturdays and Sundays--and once a month they went on a trip. Even if it was just a trip to someplace like Austin where they leave Friday after work, drive 3 hours, and spend a couple of nights eating out and relaxing before driving back on Sunday.

I was talking to a couple of my best friends recently about marriage. And we were going down the list of all the people we know who are married. And his conclusion was "I have the happiest marriage I know of except a couple of them." And the common thread was that those couples are good at communication, compromise, and making the other person feel important. And in both cases the men had made career sacrifices to be able to spend more meaningful time with their wife and kids. And the women had made similar sacrifices to be mothers. I look at my parents--happily married for 40+ years--and the same thing is true. My mom gave up working for years to have kids. My dad gave up a higher paying job because it put him on the road constantly and away from home. And now, as empty nesters, they go on weekend trips at least half a dozen times a year.

Years ago I read something by David Sedaris that I believe is absolutely true. The gist was that life is comprised of four big zones--your health, your family, your friends, and your career. And you can't be good at all of them. You can be excellent in one. Or you can be very good in two. But you're going to have to put two of those on the back burner or you're going to fail at all four.

Again, if you want to look at someone like Bill Clinton, the guy has had 18 heart procedures and fucks anything in a skirt (or at least gets a hummer and stains her dress). Look at George Bush (either one) and all their fucked up kids. And the same with Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, etc....look at Barrack Obama's history of backstabbing friends and former colleagues to get ahead. Being president of the United States is an extreme example, of course. But something like 20% of Americans in executive positions are legitimately sociopaths and narcissists.

Personally, if I'm choosing, family is clearly number one to me. I remember birthdays. I want to be there for special occasions. I feel bad about not visiting more. I want to do special things for them--and that goes for being in a relationship, too. I want my partner to be the #1 priority in my life--and want to feel the same. Or at least a close #2 behind the blood relatives they've known all their life. Friends are probably second--though I'm willing to see them less or be farther away for the sake of a relationship. But history has shown that's not true for a career. Maybe it was 10 years ago, but not any more. Career and health are at the bottom for me. And it goes back and forth. I certainly wouldn't work myself to the point of a heart attack. But I would go out for drinks or a big meal with friends or family to celebrate something for them.

And I'm content with that. If you told me I would have had to choose between my job or going to my little sister's wedding, I would have told the boss to fuck off and gone. Because, ultimately, it is more important to give love and be loved--at least in my mind--than it will ever be to get a fucking employee of the month plaque and pat on the back for some meaningless project.

Sex, Relationships, Love, Trust, and Why A Person Would Cheat

During the summer of 2007 I was living with the woman I'd been dating for two years. Early on in the relationship a pattern had developed: she slept later than me, so on weekends I would get up, feed the dogs, and then make breakfast for us or pick something up from a local Mexican bakery. Then we'd have sex, take a nap, and spend the day hanging out or go do something. As the relationship progressed, almost all of that did most all sex...but I kept doing the breakfast thing because I'm stupid and naive and always believe things can go back to being great and you can recapture magic, even though all evidence in my past has shown that to not be true.

On this particular week she was house sitting for members of her family. They were out of town for a week long trip and had four dogs, so she would either go over early in the morning and again in the afternoon to feed the dogs or just stay over there some nights. On that Friday night she'd gone out drinking with a group of people she worked with--which included a guy that I knew had a crush on her and was kind of obvious in his flirting even when I was around. On Saturday I got up, picked up breakfast, and went to surprise her at the family house. I tried to call to make sure she was up, but her cell phone went straight to voice mail. When I arrived at around 9 in the morning, the Crush Guy's truck was already sitting in the drive way. I just left. I decided not to bring it up to see if she would. She did not. No mention of it.

A month later a friend of mine came to visit from out of town for a weekend and she refused to cancel her plans for even one day to hang out with us--despite living with me. And those plans were going to baseball games--which she had always hated--with the same group of co-workers--Crush Guy included. And these weren't special plans--her boss had season tickets and went to every single home baseball game--80+ games a year. After that we started talking about breaking up, though the ultimate blow didn't come until after my birthday in September.

I don't know what happened between her and that guy that night. I don't know if our relationship fell off sexually because we were growing apart, because she was just a jerk, or because she was getting her fill elsewhere (which, of course, would make her a jerk). I do know that she started texting him like crazy within days of us breaking up (we shared a phone account and it came up on my bill). And I do know that less than a year after our 2+ year relationship ended she was engaged to that guy.

I hear stories about cheating. I'm shocked about it. And yet hear them all the time. Examples:

- a married friend telling me that an acquaintance--who is engaged--is always hitting on her and making excuses to touch her and sometimes out right propositions her, but then acts like it's a joke.

- a friend of a friend who is engaged to a guy that she doesn't know will bang anything moving--while they're engaged and planning a wedding!!--and is a big fan of talking girls in bars to go outside and do some coke and then getting head.

- a female friend who date a guy for years who was into 3-somes. Now her current longterm boyfriend (1 year+) is NOT into that and sees that as cheating. And so she fools around with girls on the side without him knowing. "It's not cheating," she says. "It's not like I'm with a guy. Two girls together is hot!" So, would you tell your boyfriend? "No. He'd be pissed if he found out. But I think he'd probably get over it."

- a vendor at work who was engaged and is now NOT-engaged because he popped by her house one day and found that her ex-boyfriend was over there...

- the 800 ads on any given day that will give you a laugh on Craig's List and that are endlessly spoofed, all to the tune of "I'm married and NOT gay, but sometimes I just like to get discreet, no strings head from a guy. But I'm not gay!!!"

- an acquaintance who had been dating a guy for years who was here regularly on business and was talking about getting a house together and him transferring--and then found out he wasn't really here on business. He lived here--and had a wife and kids. And lived in the same Lakewood part of Dallas she lived in.

- a married co-worker who, when asked why he was planning his brothers bachelor party in New York, proudly stated that they would be able to get better hookers for the party.

- a married co-worker getting divorced--while pregnant!--because her husband decided she wasn't attractive enough to keep his interest and went elsewhere. (Which is absurd, as she looks like a pregnant, Mexican Penelope Cruz).

When I was young and stupid I used to think that maybe there were circumstances where cheating would be acceptable. If it was like some "Wuthering Heights" situation of two people who were "meant to be" and for some reason in other relationships that didn't work. But that's bullshit. There is no situation where you both can't end things first before becoming involved with someone else. Cheating on someone--even emotionally--just makes you kind of an asshole who isn't considering the feelings of your partner or the level of betrayal they'll feel. The only way you could do more to stab them in the back would be actually stealing their stuff and selling it on the sly. A scale from least offensive to worst offensive would go something like this:

a) Having a one night stand with someone else--even if it's alcohol fueled.
b) Having one night stands with lots of people.
c) Having an ongoing relationship with someone secretly
d) Having an ongoing relationship with an ex or someone your partner knows secretly.
e) Doing any of the above and not coming clean and just hoping they never find out. Which is really terrible. At least have the dignity to let them know you've been a jerk.

I've spent time here and in real life conversations thinking about sex and the role it plays in relationships. Partly due to my own past, but mostly when I hear stories about cheating and I'm left wondering why someone would risk a relationship for something that is just a physical pleasure--when sex, ideally, should be a combination of the physical AND shared intimacy with a partner. I briefly dated someone in 2007 or so who upfront said "This is what I need there anything you 3 blow jobs a week?" Which I found bizarre. I've had one relationship end because of my sexual frustration and ended one because of things a partner would not do--and both times I wondered if I made the wrong decision later. Though, honestly, I'm sure that neither of those people were "the one" for me. I've also had a couple of relationships ended by the other person over sex--and, honestly, it's kind of hilarious to have someone offer an ultimatum beginning with "look, I really like anal sex and you have to be really into it or I'm unhappy."

Maybe I'm just too easily satisfied to get it and understand the frustrations other people fill. Admittedly, my own tastes are fairly vanilla. My own requirements for happiness are pretty much: sex a few times a week, mutual oral, not always having to initiate sex, and not only doing the sex right before going to sleep because, frankly, sex in the morning is often better. And maybe some flirty night clothes from time to time or a romantic surprise. That's it. I'm easy.

Or maybe it's just that I'm too moral. Maybe foolishly old-fashioned. I believe too much in the whole concept of love and romance and finding a person that you want to be with forever and having a fairy tale life where you only have eyes for one another. And I felt that way even when I was young. One of my first Dallas dating experiences was meeting a woman who was attractive and interesting and educated...and after talking a bit we exchanged numbers...and then she said "just so you know, I'm not looking for anything serious...I'm pretty sure my boyfriend is about to propose to me and I just have some wild oats I want to sow before I'm married." I'm sure many guys would have been excited. I'm pretty sure I left a hole in the wall of the building as I fled the scene like a criminal. (Unfortunately, she had my number, which led to many lewd texts trying to lure me the point that I changed my South Carolina number to a Texas one.)

I've had long conversations with people in the past where we hear cheating stories and tried to figure out what the motivation is for men and women--which, I think for the most part, is different depending on gender. I think there's probably three things that motivate women:

- Spite - So, your relationship isn't working out as well as you planned. Maybe your partner cheated on you. Maybe he's just a dick. This will put him in his place! It's so passive-aggressive and involves such faulty logic that I can't comprehend it. Just dump the person.

- Insecurity - I was 23 the first time I heard a woman say "yeah, I'm not as thin as I was in college, but guys still want to take me home from the bar, so that means I'm still hot." You know, because men are really discerning about who they fuck. Yet I think people who feel that way and look at male attention to find their self-worth have a hard time breaking that cycle and any time the self-esteem gets low will look for a male to build it back up.

- Fear of Being Alone Which can relate to insecurity. And maybe spite. But in this case I'm talking specifically about when a relationship is fading the person starts setting up a back up plan or exit strategy so they can do the dumping rather than be dumped and they won't have to spend any time in the dating word and can just transition to the next relationship seamlessly. Which seems cruel to the partner. Just break up and be done with it.

I hear four motivations most common with men:

- Spite - see above

- Apathy - A lot of guys view sex no different than a transaction at a convenience store. It's impersonal and meaningless. It's just fulfilling a need. Cheating is not a big deal. And if they get caught, they can get away with it by justifying it as meaningless. Judging my the amount of times I've seen guys get caught and then seen the woman in their life forgive them after they say "I was drunk and not thinking," I have to feel like the men are being somewhat enabled on this one.

- Adventure - If you read any of the so-called "greats" of 20th Century American Literature--guys like Roth or Mailer or Updike who wrote extensively about getting old and sex and infidelity, you see a common theme. That they get bored. That guys start to feel in a rut about marriage and family and work and rather than find ways to improve that situation or allow it to evolve, they start looking for something exciting. And even the fear of getting caught cheating provides them with a cheap thrill--like a kid getting a high by sneaking their parents liquor.

- Fantasy - A guy has built up some fetish in his mind that he feels needs to be fulfilled. And this goes back to me saying that my own taste is maybe just to bland to understand this one. And it can be anything from "I HAVE TO have sex with a woman of a different race" to "I HAVE TO have someone humiliate me and punish me for being a bad, bad boy." These are the types you see on the Craig's List. And the type I understand maybe the least of all. When you're in a committed relationship, you should have some understanding with your partner about what they are and are NOT into...and if that doesn't work, you should either discuss it with them, move on to someone else, or accept that maybe being in love and having a caring partner is a little more valuable than any thrill you can get from having a woman spank you for ten minutes. But, again, maybe it's just me and maybe I'm naive to think that fetishes are perhaps motivated by something unhealthy in a person's psychological past that maybe they should talk out with a professional instead of feeling it's necessary and worth betraying a person's trust to fulfill. Of course, I can't imagine having a secret life from my partner in any circumstance. I don't want to do anything that I would have to hide or that would make her uncomfortable. Silly me, but I think the foundation of a good relationship is intimacy based on complete trust, communication, and honesty.