5 SIMPLE (BUT ESSENTIAL) REASONS TO STOP WATCHING PORN TODAY
He sat there, broken and exposed
like never before.
“I didn’t think it would end like
this. I didn’t think it would go so far.” He whispered the words through tears
and gritted teeth.
I had worked with people
suffering from pornography addiction very closely for the past three years, but
I hadn’t seen this level of loss. A marriage destroyed. A family severed. A
high level career in shambles. A man at the brink of giving up on life.
I broke the silence. “What? What
wouldn’t go so far?”
“Pornography.” He looked me
square in the eyes. “Porn just grabbed a hold of me and wouldn’t let go. It
consumed my life.”
This man’s story is like many
men’s stories. Porn has a way of sinking its talons deep into our lives and not
letting go. Many people don’t think that porn will have a negative effect on
their life. They don’t know the full ramifications or the incredibly adverse
effects that continued exposure to pornography can have. That is, until it goes
So, whether you are just getting
started or find yourself stuck in the quick sand of pornography, let me give
you five straightforward but essential reasons to quit today.
1. Better Relationships
Did you know that there is a 300%
increase in divorce for homes where one or more people in the relationship
regularly look at pornography?¹
In Scripture, Jesus says, “Everyone
who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with
her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28).
There is a connection with those
we ‘lust after’ that will get in the way of our relationship
every time. Our eyes and attention are called to be in one direction, but porn
has a way of diverting our attention in many different directions.
Giving up porn will remove the
massive barrier standing in front of our relationships and focus our attention
2. Free Space in
Porn happens to be fantastic at
forming new, long-lasting pathways in the brain. Over time, these images or
videos become burned into the brain, taking up space. These memories can turn
into objectification of the people you see every day, repeating these images in
your mind over and over again.
As these images or videos
increase, so does the space that is stored up in our minds. There is an acronym
often used to describe the effect that these images have on our mind and our
daily interactions. It’s FOE. It stand for “fantasy,” “objectification,” and
Porn will increase the amount of
FOEs that we face each day.
Quitting porn, however, will free
up space in your mind that can be used for good, not objectification.
3. Better Sex
Some of you are wondering why I
didn’t start with this one!
Did you know that porn can cause erectile dysfunction in men?
That’s right, no more erections! In fact, psychiatry professor Norman Doidge
reported in his book The Brain That Changes Itself that
removal of internet pornography use reversed impotence and sexual arousal
problems in his patients.
I am reminded of the words of
Jesus when he said, “The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy. I came
that they may have life and life abundantly” (John 10:10).
Isn’t it just like the devil to
entice us to see all the sexually explicit things that we want, and then have
the ability to enjoy sexual activity with another stripped away? You deserve to
have great sex and that starts with taking the pornography out of your life.
4. Less Stress
Watching porn has a natural way
of increasing stress and releasing cortisol (a steroid hormone) into your
system. However, think about the stress you feel every time someone is on your
computer, looking at your Netflix queue, or asking to borrow your phone. That
stress would be completely lifted off by quitting porn. There will no longer be
that fear or shame of “being caught.”
I heard a saying the other day
that went like this: “The best gift you can give yourself is the gift of a
How true this is! I have been on
both sides of the coin. I have had that fear and stress controlling me, and
I’ve also been on the side of a clean conscience. There is no question as to
where I’d rather be. I’m grateful for less stress.
5. Living in Integrity
Integrity has been described as
“living with the lights on” or “acting the same in front of people as you do
when no one is watching.” Some would describe this as living with
authenticity—being true to YOU. By quitting porn, many begin to live in truth and
I have never found someone who
said, “Watching porn is helping me become my best self!” In fact, the reaction
from everyone I’ve talked to has been quite the opposite. Pornography has
caused them to live outside of their values, keeping secrets and lying to those
they love the most. When you live in integrity, you are able to be the same
person no matter where you find yourself.
One of my favorite conversations
can be found in the book Alice in Wonderland, written by Lewis
Carroll. There is a scene where Alice is lost. She is trying to figure out
where to go, but there are all of these signs pointing in different directions.
As she is trying to make the right choice, the Cheshire Cat shows up.
Their conversation goes like
Alice: “Would you tell me,
please, which way I ought to go from here?”
The Cheshire Cat: “That depends a
good deal on where you want to get to.”
Alice: “I don’t much care where.”
The Cheshire Cat: “Then it
doesn’t much matter which way you go.”
Alice: “… So long as I get somewhere.”
The Cheshire Cat: “Oh, you’re
sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”
For some reading this article,
you’ve walked long enough. This is your moment. Change is sitting right in
front of you, but you will have to take that first step. You will have to make
the decision of where you “want to get to.” Is it a life free from porn? Is it
a place of honesty and integrity? Is it living authentically?
IF YOU HAVE (OR HAD) TOXIC RELATIONSHIPS OF ANY KIND, READ THIS NOW!
This is a vulnerable story –
about an unconventional therapist I saw – who helped me to learn how to get out
of bad toxic relationships.
About a decade and
a half ago I used to joke that for me all dating should be re-named
‘blind-dating” – and instead of saying I was “seeing someone right now” – I
should be more honest, and say, “I’m dimly viewing someone.”
I remember I was
once “dimly viewing” this particular guy. I’ve written about him before.
I explained how
every time I said this guy’s name, my girlfriends would sing the theme song
to Batman. Not because this man looked great in black
Spandex tights. No, no. It was because he was a bad man.
Bad-man! Bad-man!” my girlfriends would sing, right after I’d finish telling a
particularly bad Bad-man episode—of which there were many.
Let’s call this ex
of mine “Bruce Wayne” – to protect his not-so-innocent secret identity.
Today I want to
share something I never told you about Bruce.
“dadadadadada bad-behavior” began very early on – a few weeks into our relationship.
Yep, right out of
the gate Bruce displayed what I felt were highly controlling and jealous
behaviors, products of paranoia.
Yet I continued to
I even went away with Bruce for a
weeklong vacation in Turkey – where we had a very big fight one evening.
I made a silly joke to our Turkish waiter – who then laughed – and touched my
shoulder before he left our table. Bruce then became convinced that I was
flirting with this Turkish waiter.
Bruce specifically wanted to know if I’d rather be dating this
Turkish waiter – a man who could barely speak English – plus lived well beyond
a 5,000 mile radius of my zip code.
I kept reassuring Bruce I was
not the teeniest bit interested in this Turkish dude – yet Bruce refused to
talk to me for a full two days of our vacation!
When I came home
from vacation, I sought out therapy.
I found a nice older psychotherapist,
named Sid, who eventually became like a “grandfather from another
great-grand-mother.” I adored Sid.
believe what Bruce said/did last night,” I’d begin each and every therapy session. And then I’d launch
into another “Dadadadadadada Bad-man Episode”!
“Bruce said he doesn’t want me to have brunch with girlfriends on weekends anymore – unless he comes along.”
“Plus, he doesn’t want me to take an evening painting class – because he thinks I just want to meet someone.”
“Also, he doesn’t want me to go to the gym – because he thinks I just want to meet someone.“
“Aaaaannnd…he told me he doesn’t like it when I come home happy from work – because he worries I enjoy work more than him! He actually became angry the other day because I came home so happy!”
“You know what your
problem is Karen?” Sid asked me one session. “You’re so smart, you’re
I laughed. “What’s
that supposed to mean?”
“You are able to
over-think things so much – that you wind up talking yourself out of what you
“So you think I
should break up with Bruce?” I asked.
Sid sighed loudly. “I’m a therapist.
I’m not supposed to tell you what to do. But if you want my honest opinion… I
can’t believe you’re gonna stay with him, when he’s an asshole.”
“Wow! I can’t
believe you just called Bruce an a***hole,” I said. “But you’re right, he is an
“Actually, I didn’t
call HIM an a**hole! I called YOU an a**hole. You heard me wrong. I said, ‘If
you continue to stay with Bruce, then YOU are an a**hole.’”
“What? I’m not the
a**hole! Bruce is the a**hole!”
“At this point,
Karen, if you stay with Bruce knowing what you know – then YOU are the
“I’m the a**hole?”
I repeated this
word out loud – a word as opposite in content as a mantra could ever be – but
alas, more powerful than any mantra I’d ever used.
This word “a**hole”
became my wakeup call!
Sid was right. If I
stayed with someone who was so very toxic to my wellbeing – then I became
the A**hole to me – for allowing this soul-crushing, freedom-squelching
relationship to continue!
Sid said, “at this point in therapy we are simply wasting time talking
about Bruce – and how messed up he is. Quite frankly, you are only using
stories about Bruce to distract yourself from your real issues – and the
important inner work you have to do on yourself. It’s time we talk about the
white elephant in the room: your wounds! There’s obviously something so wounded
inside of you, that you feel the need to stay with Bruce – when he is so toxic.”
Although this story
about toxic relationships happened well over a decade ago, I think about it
think about it whenever I’ve found myself starting to enter into what I intuit
might be a toxic relationship – be it in love, business or friendship.
I feel if we’re not
careful we can all find ourselves wasting a lot of precious tick-tocking time
complaining about how badly someone is behaving towards us.
If you’re dealing
with bad toxic relationships, you need to stop asking…
“Why is this person treating me
“Why did this person do that
crappy thing to me?”
“What is wrong with this
“Are they an a**hole?”
“Isn’t this person simply just a terrible person?”
important questions to ask… so you can move on from bad toxic relationships…
“What did I miss in the vetting
process that I allowed this person into my life?”
“What is wounded inside me that
I choose/chose to stay with this person for as long as I do/did?”
“How can I grow from this
experience – so it doesn’t repeat itself into a bad pattern?”
“Do I want to make this a story
about how I was a victim – or how I became a victor?”
“Do I want to waste my time,
thoughts and energy on toxicity or use it for a higher purpose?”
“Aren’t I wise and strong for how I moved on to be with better
people and live better days?”
If you’re presently caught up in
telling stories about the toxic misbehaviors of someone – the time has come to
stop getting caught up in name-calling, contempt and blame.
The time has come
to recognize you’re just distracting yourself with all the drama, chaos and
Yep, the more you
stay with and/or complain about a toxic person, the more you’re merely
delaying doing the important inner work you need to do – to heal your wounds,
expand your limiting beliefs, and show yourself far more love and respect.
All of this time
expended on them could be time spent on expanding you – growing who you are!
Don’t be an a**hole to yourself.
Stop staying with (and/or complaining about) toxic people.
Choose to focus your time, energy and conversation around people who inspire you, support you and help you to grow you into your happiest, strongest, wisest self.
7 THINGS WE HOLD ON TO (LONG AFTER IT’S TIME TO LET GO)
“That which you hold, holds you.” ― Tom Robbins
Jeanne Marie had moved her wedding shoes from apartment to apartment, home to home—for more than fifteen moves over thirty-five years.
In her twenties, she’d shopped exhaustively for the right pair, trying on dozens of shoes before landing on the perfect strappy sandals, the pair that would follow her around for the next three and a half decades.
She’d always hoped to wear them again, maybe for an anniversary or a special date. But it had been years since those shoes fit, and on top of that, she and her husband had long since separated.
The day before trash day, she put the shoes in her trash bin—knowing in her gut that it was time to part with them. They weighed her down.
“I looked at the shoes laying there in the trash, taunting me, reminding me of my wedding day, and I pushed them in deeper. I instantly panicked, but I took deep breaths and walked away.”
The next morning, though, she found herself next to that trash bin. She dug through egg shells, coffee grounds, and dirty paper plates before spotting them toward the bottom.
The Weights We Shoulder
Do you ever feel the weight of your physical belongings resting on your chest? Or maybe for you, it’s your shoulders or lower back. When I feel like I own too much, I feel it on my chest—right over my heart. I can’t breathe as deeply or move as freely.
But if there’s one thing I know, it’s that with every item I get rid of, I lessen that weight.
Whether it’s a stack of papers I no longer need or the nine kitchen utensils I’ve never used, with each piece of clutter I send out of my home, I can inhale deeper. Move freer. Jump higher.
It almost feels like magic.
Our physical belongings have weight, indisputably. But they’re not the only things we hold on to long past their usefulness. What other weights are you carrying?
7 Things We Hold On To…
Do you have a relationship in your life where every interaction leaves you feeling drained or diminished? It could be a co-worker, a boss, a friend, or a family member, but what marks this relationship as a weight on your chest is how you feel after each interaction. Pay attention to this.
How much mental and emotional energy have you wasted worrying about something that’s beyond your control? It’s amazing how our worries can come to feel like old friends. We allow our brains to follow the same pathways over and over, to the point where we’ve tricked ourselves into believing that worrying helps—that it’s even a way of showing love.
But wouldn’t it be ten times more powerful to ask ourselves if there’s anything we can do to improve the situation? This gives us the option of acting, not just worrying. And if there’s really nothing we can do—if the situation is 100 percent outside of our sphere of influence—what good does it do to hold on to worry?
“Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.” — Erma Bombeck
3. Social Media
Do you follow any social media influencers who tend to leave you feeling like what you have—or who you are—isn’t enough? Or it could be an entire platform; maybe you’ve noticed that you feel down on yourself every time you open a certain app.
What’s one habit you long to kick but aren’t sure if you can? Maybe it’s the amount of sugar you eat after dinner or the never-enough hours of sleep you get at night. Maybe it’s the tone of voice you use when you’re tired or the amount of time you spend looking at a screen in your hand instead of the faces around you.
Do you have any thoughts that regularly cross your mind but are only holding you back? Are any of the following familiar?
“No one appreciates me.”
“I do everything around here.”
“I’m not cut out for this.”
This is emotional clutter.
6. The Past
Our memories can bring us so much joy… but also so much pain. Especially if we’re refusing to let go of past wounds, whether inflicted by others or inflicted by ourselves. Forgiveness is power.
To help you let go, can you imagine—with as much detail as you can possibly summon—that each item you get rid of reduces the weight on your chest? Imagine that every piece you donate—every toxic relationship you navigate away from, every limiting thought you decide to stop believing—takes you closer to a lighter, freer, purer version of yourself.
Finally Saying Goodbye
That morning, an hour before the garbage truck would rumble through her neighborhood, Jeanne stopped just short of grabbing her shoes out of the bin and darting inside with them in hand.
I could save the heels, she thought in that moment. But I know I can’t save us.
Parting with the shoes was painful, but in this case, holding on felt worse.
A few hours later, she watched, standing next to the sheer curtains of her front window, as the garbage truck carried those shoes away.
And just as she’d hoped, she felt lighter as those shoes—and the emotional weight they carried—finally left her sight.
Beth was my ex-stepmother, but “mother” was still a part of her title. Could I share a home with her?
Beth and I first lived under the same roof in 1982, when I was 13. My father, who was 47 at the time, invited Beth, then 23, to spend the summer in the Maine lake house he and I had fixed up the summer before. I refused to leave my room the night she arrived.
Without laying eyes on her, I knew she would be another of Dad’s interchangeable “little chickies” as he called them — the skinny, busty former students he liked to date.
The next morning, I was eating Honey Nut Cheerios when I heard her coming down the stairs. My father had already retreated to his desk upstairs, purportedly to work on a lecture on Puritan literature, but mostly to take hits from a hidden bottle of vodka.
I planned to freeze Beth out of existence with my thoughts — a superpower every gay boy needed in the 80s. But instead of making awkward chitchat, Beth just smiled, picked up her copy of “Crime and Punishment,” and ate her own Cheerios in silence.
When done, she asked if I liked the book I was reading — stories by John Cheever. Dad asked such questions only to hear his own opinion. Beth was actually curious to know mine. She was making me like her before I had the chance to hate her.
Soon on sunny afternoons, Beth and I lay on the dock together, tanning and lightening our hair with lemon juice, as one did in the 80s. Neither mentioned a shared lust for a neighbor — a combination seminarian and jock — who joined us for a swim from time to time.
Dad and Beth married the following September. By May, two semesters later, my father’s tantrums had driven her away. Amazingly, he never once had an ill word to say about Beth. And this was a man who in five minutes could convince you Gandhi was a narcissist and Jesus a sociopath.
He did have bad things to say about his first wife, my mother. And she gave him reasons. Beneath her charms lay inchoate storms of hurt and aggression. As Dad was leaving her for the last time — I was 12, a year before Dad met Beth — she told him she was going to take me to “Luna,” a recent Bertolucci film. A terrible look came over his face, not rage this time but horror.
After he left, I was too terrified to look at the art house flyer taped to the fridge. My mother never did take me to see the movie, but a few years later, “Luna” returned for a Bertolucci retrospective. This time I did read the flyer and wished I hadn’t. “Luna,” it turned out, was “the story of the incestuous relationship between a mother and her teenage son.”
To be clear, my mother had never acted on the themes of the film, but she craved an emotional closeness that was too much for a son to give.
At 17, I went as far away as I could, first to college in California and then on to a journalistic career I kept undercutting with debt-fueled geographic cures that never worked for long — not Los Angeles, not Paris, not even Rio de Janeiro.
At first, Beth and I stayed in touch, but like me, she kept moving. She married again, had a daughter, divorced and, as a social worker/actress, constantly chased cheap New York City rents. By around 1995, the handwritten phone numbers in our respective address books were no longer valid.
When Dad died in 2005, the vodka finally having wiped out his liver, my sister tracked down Beth’s email and cc’d me. I was living in Rio, where I thought I’d found both happiness and a mate for life. Right away, Beth and I were yakking the way we had on the dock. Soon, I was visiting her for weeks at a time, ostensibly to work on a screenplay but mostly just to be together.
In 2013, a Supreme Court decision legalized same-sex marriage, enabling my Brazilian husband, 14 years my junior, to immigrate to the United States as my spouse. We moved to Upper Manhattan — two blocks from Beth. The Brazilian complained that she and I analyzed movies to death. We both thought, but we live to analyze movies to death.
One afternoon, I left him on the couch playing video games and texting bar plans that I no longer wanted to be part of. I walked to Beth’s, where she and I talked about substantive things — books, movies, joys, griefs. On the way back, I realized I wasn’t just bored at home. I was also lonely.
It was the Brazilian who left in the end. Beth comforted me as neither of my parents nor the Brazilian could have — she was patient, protective but never pitying, sure of my strength.
Suddenly, she and I were both single and struggling to pay Manhattan rents. Why shouldn’t she move into my extra bedroom? I hesitated, ostensibly because of her clutter problem. I once left some junk mail on her coffee table, only to find it in the same place when I returned six months later. When I threw it away, she was actually a little sad. I, by contrast, strove for the modernist austerity of the homes I wrote about for architecture magazines, and threw away not only clutter but even things I actually needed.
However, clutter was just cover for a deeper fear. By living with my father’s former wife, would the incestuous waves, at last, pull me under?
In 2010, Mom learned that her gut discomfort was stage-four colon cancer. “Forgive me …,” she said nine months later, from her hospice bed. Whether because of the pain, the morphine, or her own hesitation, she couldn’t name the thing to be forgiven. “For … for … well, you know,” she said.
I had found peace with my dying mother, but was still haunted by her earlier avatar — the Medea willing to psychically drown her son. Beth was my ex-stepmother, but “mother” was still a part of her title. Could I really share a home with her?
Then when I was 47, I lost my biggest freelance client. My finances were in free fall. Two months later, Beth, by then 57, moved in. I gave her the master bedroom and the two largest closets. In return, she ceded all aesthetic control of common spaces.
The clutter problem turned out to be only a minor annoyance. When her things piled up, I placed them on her bed while she was out.
The Mommy issues took longer. I would share details of my own peccadilloes, but plugged my ears and hummed when Beth did the same. “So you can talk about sex and I can’t?” she asked. “I guess that’s another one of your double standards, sweetie.”
Like aversion therapy, this controlled exposure has had marvelously curative effects. Now, Beth can get as graphic as she wants, and it is fine — at least tolerable. And gradually I have come to see my mother as a charming, cultured woman who, in 1980s Baltimore, kept up with Italian cinema.
Beth and I still analyze movies to death, but now from the comfort of the sectional couch I bought with the Brazilian. I am still regrouping for my next foray into love and marriage, but most days that question seems moot.
I’m still learning that a happy home is constructed not with Modernist furnishings but emotional safety — a language that, after nearly four decades, Beth is still teaching me to speak.
Last fall, I made a viral video about having trouble making friends. Here’s what I’ve learned.
Being known as “the girl with no friends” wasn’t my favorite part about having made a video that went viral — but you take what you can get.
About a year ago, as a college freshman at Cornell, I was assigned a short video project for my Intro to Digital Media course.
I decided to focus on my disappointment with the early weeks of college: How I couldn’t get past superficial conversation, how I couldn’t seem to enjoy parties, feel comfortable on campus, or just meet people who I wanted to spend more time around. I felt so lost and beyond confused.
I had been a pretty social person in high school and I fully expected to make great friends right away when I got to college. It’s supposed to be the time of your life, right?
I had been looking forward to college for years. I started studying for standardized tests in 10th, hammering out extracurricular activities and A.P. courses all through 11th, and spent senior year typing applications till my fingers practically bled. I got into a great school, pleasing myself and my family. This was not the payoff I expected.
The worst part was that I felt as if I were the only one who was this lonely. I’d see all these freshmen walk in packs — just massive groups of friends already formed in the first two weeks of school. I couldn’t muster the courage to ask people to get lunch. It was so frustrating. I immediately turned on myself — criticized and blamed myself for being weird and unapproachable.
I spent a ton of time on social media, constantly checking in on my high school friends and seeing how they were getting along at their colleges. They’d post more and text me less. I really tried to put myself out there, but the more people I met, the more defeated I felt. I wasn’t interested in forging fake relationships out of necessity, I wanted genuine friendships that I could treasure. Why couldn’t I find them in my first month on campus?
I poured my loneliness into the four-and-a-half-minute film I made, called “My College Transition.” I posted it on YouTube expecting only my professor and a couple friends to see it.
It now has over 275,000 views and hundreds of comments. I had students from all over the country reach out to me and express their experiences, thanking me for making them feel less alone. Administrators from various universities wrote to me asking for permission to show the video to their freshman class. I even landed a few freelance video design jobs. I spoke on panels, gave tons of interviews and won an award at a film festival.
It was overwhelming in the most beautiful way, and was further proof that I wasn’t alone in my experience. It also showed how necessary it was for people to be open about isolation on college campuses.
Now a sophomore, I see how ridiculous my expectations were for my first year. To assume I could instantly meet my New Best Friends while also getting used to a new place, starting a new academic career, and learning how to adjust to life away from home — that’s a full plate already. Some of the high school friends I was missing had been my friends for my whole life.
Expecting close relationships like the ones that had taken years to develop was unfair to myself and the people around me. Going to college is a massive change — so many students are being uprooted from the familiar comforts of their homes and thrust into a completely new place. It was beyond unrealistic for me to anticipate a seamless transition.
After I posted the video I had people of all ages and genders reaching out to me, explaining how they felt the same way when they started a new job, when they moved to a new place, even when they started retirement.
Loneliness is too often paired with self-blame and self criticism: “I can’t find my place among these people, so it must be my fault.” My social life became a big game of trial and error, slowly learning in which groups I felt welcome and included. It was hard! It was draining! But by putting myself out there, I found so many communities on campus to invest myself in, and where I knew I would be happily received.
The video was definitely a conversation starter, and it made people more likely to open up to me about their struggles as a freshman. But I don’t think the video was any sort of motivator for people to actually become my friend.
Now, a year after making the film, I’ve settled in to college a lot better. But I see the new batch of freshmen around me and imagine many of them are going through the same transition. Here’s what I know now that I wish I could have told my younger self.
You can’t clone your high school friends
The notion that my college friends should be stand-ins for my close relationships from home: impossible. One of the great things about going away to college is the chance to meet people who are not the same. I learned to cherish each relationship for its uniqueness, for the different perspective and ideas it brought into my life. At first I searched for people who reminded me of my friends from home, who would play a similar role in my life that they do. But I began to realize that no one can stand in for or replace them — which was oddly comforting, and a relief to acknowledge.
Social media is not reality
I had to minimize my time on social media. It became a platform for comparison. I evaluated every picture my friends posted, determining whether their college looked like more fun than mine, if they had made more friends than I had, just meaningless justifications for my unhappiness. It was comforting when old friends reached out to me to say that they related to the video. Many of them were people I thought were having a fantastic time at school. Social media reinforces the notion that you should always be enjoying yourself, that it’s strange to not be happy and that life is a constant stream of good experiences and photo-worthy moments. I taught myself that everyone’s college experience is different, and slowly, I started to embrace the uniqueness of my own.
Give yourself time to adjust
Transitions are always hard — regardless of your age. But the social expectations around college put overwhelming pressure on students to fit in seamlessly into their campus, without truly acknowledging the difficulty of uprooting your life and starting fresh. The hardest thing to tell struggling freshmen is that acclimation takes time — and “thriving” even longer. Making friends is an active process, and all the preconceived ideas college students arrive with can make for a defeating experience. Understand that your loneliness is not failure, and that you are far from being alone in this feeling. Open your mind and take experiences as they come. You’re going to find your people.
We all want to be the best parents we can be for our children, but there is often conflicting advice on how to raise a kid who is confident, kind and successful. Throughout the circus act of parenting, it’s important to focus on balancing priorities, juggling responsibilities and quickly flipping between the needs of your children, other family members and yourself. Modern parents have the entire internet at their disposal and don’t follow any single authority. It’s hard to know whom or what to trust. Here, we’ll talk about how to help your child grow up to be a person you really like without losing yourself in the process.
Your Parenting Style
Good news: There is no one right way to raise a child.
Research tells us that to raise a self-reliant child with high self-esteem, it is than authoritarian. You want your child to listen, respect and trust you rather than fear you. You want to be supportive, but not a hovering, helicopter parent.
All of these things are easy to set as goals, but . How do you find the right balance?
As your child develops, the challenges will change, and your thinking may evolve, but your approach should be consistent, firm and loving. Help your child learn through experience that making an effort builds confidence and helps you learn to tackle challenges. Calibrate your expectations about what your child is capable of doing independently, whether you have an infant learning to sleep through the night, a toddler helping to put toys away, or an older child resolving conflicts.
Remember, there is no one right way to raise a child. Do your best, trust yourself and enjoy the company of the small person in your life.
Conquering the Basics
Your healthy attitude toward sleep, food and discipline will affect your children in the most important ways.
How to Put a Baby to Sleep
Right from the beginning, in their sleep patterns. And parents, too, vary in terms of how they cope with interrupted nights.
There are two general schools of thought around babies and sleep after those early months when they need nighttime feedings — soothe the baby to sleep or don’t — and many parents find themselves wavering back and forth. Those who believe in sleep training, including many sleep experts, would argue that in helping babies learn to fall asleep by themselves and soothe themselves back to sleep when they wake during the night, parents are helping them master vital skills for comfort and independence.
Two techniques for this are:
Graduated extinction, in which babies are allowed to cry for short, prescribed intervals over the course of several nights.
, in which parents delay bedtime in 15-minute increments so the child becomes more and more tired.
And many parents report that these strategies improve their children’s sleep patterns, as well as their own. But there are also parents who find the idea of letting a baby cry at night unduly harsh.
Whatever you try, remember, some babies, no matter what you do, are not reliably good sleepers. Parents need to be aware of what sleep deprivation may be doing to them, to their level of functioning, and to their relationships, and take their own sleep needs seriously as well. So, ask for help when you need it, from your pediatrician or a trusted friend or family member.
For older children, the rules around sleep are clearer: Turn off devices, read aloud at bedtime, and build rituals that help small children wind down and fall asleep. will be even more important as children grow older and are expected to be awake and alert during school hours; getting enough sleep on a regular basis and coming to school well-rested will help grade-school children’s academic performance and their social behavior as well. Keeping (and turned off during the hours before bed) becomes more and more important as children grow — and it’s not a bad habit for adults, either.
As your child hits adolescence, her body clock will shift so that she is “programmed” to stay up later and sleep later, often just as schools are demanding early starts. Again, good family “sleep hygiene,” especially around screens at bedtime, in the bedroom, and even in the bed, can help teenagers disconnect and get the sleep they need. By taking sleep seriously, as a vital component of health and happiness, parents are sending an important message to children at every age.
You can take steps to help your children manage both bullying and conflict – and you’re at your most useful when you know which of the two you’re trying to address. Children who are being bullied are on the receiving end of mistreatment, and are helpless to defend themselves, whereas children in conflict are having a hard time getting along. Fortunately, most of the friction that happens among children is in the realm of conflict —an inevitable, if unpleasant, consequence of being with others — not bullying.
If children are being bullied, it’s important to reassure them that they deserve support, and that they should alert an adult to what’s happening. Further, you can remind your children that they cannot passively stand by if another child is being bullied. Regardless of how your own child might feel about the one being targeted, you can set the expectation that he or she will do at least one of three things: confront the bully, keep company with the victim, alert an adult.
When the issue is conflict, you should aim to help young people handle it well by learning to stand up for themselves without stepping on anyone else. To do this, you can model assertion, not aggression, in the inevitable disagreements that arise in family life, and coach your children to do the same as they learn how to address garden-variety disputes with their peers.
For children, gender is an evolving concept, and not one that they always see through the same lens as adults. Three-year-olds are able to label themselves as boys or girls, yet most boys this age believe that they can grow up to be moms if they want to, and vice versa for little girls. By ages 4 or 5, children come to view gender as a fixed trait. This is often when they develop princess or superhero obsessions, perhaps dabbling in extreme femininity or masculinity to compensate for their sense of losing half of the gender pie.
Left to their own devices, most children move away from rigid gender views before adolescence. All the same, girls generally enjoy more leeway than boys when it comes to gender identity. Tomboys are cool, while boys often vigilantly police one another for behavior they perceive to be feminine.
As a parent, you want to help your child feel good about being a girl or a boy, and to define what that will mean for him or herself. This can involve helping them question highly stereotyped and heavily marketed media representations of gender. And we want to remember that gender identity operates independently of sexual orientation. Who our children feel themselves to be doesn’t tell us whom they will love.
All parents have in common the wish to raise children who are good people. You surely care about how your child will treat others, and how he or she will act in the world. In some households, regular participation in a religious institution sets aside time for the family to reflect on its values and lets parents convey to their children that those beliefs are held by members of a broad community that extends beyond their home.
Even in the absence of strong spiritual beliefs, the celebration of religious holidays can act as a key thread in the fabric of family life. Though it is universally true that children benefit when their parents provide both structure and warmth, even the most diligent parents can struggle to achieve both of these on a regular basis. The rituals and traditions that are part of many religious traditions can bring families together in reliable and memorable ways. Of course, there are everyday opportunities to instill your values in your child outside of organized religion, including helping an elderly neighbor or taking your children with you to volunteer for causes that are important to you.
Above all, however, children learn your values by watching how you live.
When it comes to school, parents walk a difficult line: You want your children to strive and succeed, but you don’t want to push them in ways that are unfair, or cause needless stress. At every age and skill level, children benefit when parents help them focus on improving their abilities, rather than on proving them. In other words, children should understand that their intellectual endowment only gets them started, and that their capabilities can be increased with effort.
Children who adopt this growth mindset – the psychological terminology for the belief that industry is the path to mastery – are less stressed than peers who believe their capacities are fixed, and outperform them academically. Students with a growth mindset welcome feedback, are motivated by difficult work, and are inspired by the achievements of their talented classmates.
To raise growth-mindset thinkers you can make a point of celebrating effort, not smarts, as children navigate school. When they succeed, say, “Your hard work and persistence really paid off. Well done!” And when they struggle, say, “That test grade reflects what you knew about the material being tested on the day you took the test. It does not tell us how far you can go in that subject. Stick with it and keep asking questions. It will come.”
Parents should step in when students face academic challenges that cause constant or undue stress. Some students hold themselves, or are held by adults, to unrealistic standards. Others missed a step along the way, study ineffectively or are grappling with an undiagnosed learning difference. Determining the nature of the problem will point the way to the most helpful solution.
Here’s how to raise a child with a healthy attitude toward shiny screens and flashing buttons.
You could try to raise a screen-free child, but let’s be honest, you’re reading this on a screen. As in everything else, the challenge is in balancing the ideal and the real in a way that’s right for your family. Start by thinking about positive screen-related experiences you want to help build into your children’s lives: watching a movie as a family, reading a book on an iPad, FaceTiming with out-of-town relatives. Technology plays such an important role in children’s lives now that when we talk about it, we’re talking about everything from sleep to study to social life.
“Technology is just a tool and it can be an extremely enriching part of kids’ lives,” said Scott Steinberg, co-author of “.” “A lot of what we’re teaching about parenting around technology is just basic parenting,” he said. “It comes down to the Golden Rule: Are they treating others in a respectful and empathetic manner?”
And then there’s the question of protecting family time. Mr. Steinberg advises setting household rules that govern when devices may be used, and have clear, age-appropriate policies so kids know what they can and can’t do.
Some of these policies will be appropriate for all ages, including parents, such as:
No phones at the dinner table.
No screens for an hour before bedtime.
It’s important to practice what you preach. And in addition to taking time for family meals and family conversations, parents should be taking the time to sit down with young children and look at what they’re doing online, rather than leaving them alone with their devices as babysitters.
Parents as Digital Role Models
When a parent wants to post on social media about something a child did that may embarrass the child, Ms. Homayoun said, it’s worth stepping back to consider why. Are you posting it to draw attention to yourself?
You should respect your child’s privacy as much as you respect the privacy of friends, family members and colleagues. As cute as it may seem to post pictures of a naked toddler, consider a “no butts” policy. That may not be the image that your child wants to portray 15 years from now.
“We need to, from a very early age, teach kids what consent looks like,” Ms. Homayoun said. “It doesn’t begin when a kid is 15, 16 or 17. It begins when a kid is 3 and he doesn’t want to go hug his uncle.” Or when he doesn’t want you to post that video of him crying over a lost toy.
Our children will create digital footprints as they grow, and it will be one of our jobs to help them, guide them and get them to think about how something might look a few years down the line — you can start by respecting their privacy and applying the same standards throughout their lives.
It’s easy to dismiss high-tech toys as just pricey bells and whistles, but if you choose more enriching options, you can find toys that help kids grow. For young children, though, there’s a great deal to be said for allowing them, as much as possible, to explore the nondigital versions of blocks, puzzles, fingerpaints and all the rest of the toys that offer tactile and fine motor experiences. As children get older, some high-tech games encourage thinking dynamically, problem solving and creative expression.
“These high tech games can be an opportunity to bond with your kids. Learn more about how they think and their interests,” Mr. Steinberg said. Some games encourage kids to be part of a team, or lead one. And others let them be wilder than they might be in real life – in ways that parents can appreciate: “You can’t always throw globs of paint around the house but you can in the digital world,” he said.
The Right Age for a Phone?
“Many experts would say it’s about 13, but the more practical answer is when they need one: when they’re outside your direct supervision,” Mr. Steinberg said. Ms. Homayoun recommends them for specific contexts, such as for a child who may be traveling between two houses and navigating late sports practices.
Consider giving tiered access to technology, such as starting with a flip phone, and remind children that privileges and responsibilities go hand in hand. A child’s expanding access to personal technology should depend on its appropriate use.
To put these ideas into practical form, the website of the American Academy of Pediatrics offers guidelines for creating a personalized .
Balance both your schedule and your child’s with a reasonable approach to time.
We all know the cliché of the overscheduled child, rushing from athletic activity to music lessons to tutoring, and there will probably be moments when you will feel like that parent, with a carload of equipment and a schedule so complicated that you wake up in the middle of the night worrying you’re going to lose track. But it’s also a joy and a pleasure to watch children discover the activities they really enjoy, and it’s one of the privileges of parenthood to cheer your children on as their skills improve.
Some children really do thrive on what would be, for others, extreme overscheduling. Know your child, talk to your child, and when necessary, help your child negotiate the decisions that make it possible to keep doing the things that mean the most, even if that means letting go of some other activities.
Remember, children can get a tremendous amount of pleasure, and also great value, from learning music, from playing sports, and also from participating in the array of extracurricular activities that many schools offer. However, they also need a certain amount of unscheduled time. The exact mix varies from child to child, and even from year to year. On the one hand, we need to help our children understand the importance of keeping the commitments they make — you don’t get to give up playing your instrument because you’re struggling to learn a hard piece; you don’t quit the team because you’re not one of the starters — and on the other, we need to help them decide when it’s time to change direction or just plain let something go.
So how do you know how much is too much? Rethink the schedule if:
Your child isn’t getting enough sleep.
Your child doesn’t have enough time to get schoolwork done.
Your child can’t squeeze in silly time with friends, or even a little downtime to kick around with family.
And make sure that high school students get a positive message about choosing the activities that they love, rather than an anxiety-producing message about choosing some perfect mix to impress college admissions officers. The point of scheduling is to help us fit in the things we need to do and also the things we love to do; overscheduling means that we’re not in shape to do either.
Taking Care of Yourself
Being a parent is the job of your life, the job of your heart, and the job that transforms you forever. But as we do it, we need to keep hold of the passions and pastimes that make us who we are, and which helped bring us to the place in our lives where we were ready to have children. We owe our children attention — and nowadays it’s probably worth reminding ourselves that paying real attention to our children means limiting our own screentime and making sure that we’re talking and reading aloud and playing. But we owe ourselves attention as well.
Your children will absolutely remember the time that you spent with them — but you also want them to grow up noticing the way you maintain friendships of your own, the way you put time and energy into the things that matter most to you, from your work to your physical well-being to the special interests and passions that make you the person they know. Whether you’re taking time to paint or dance, or to knit with friends, or to try to save the world, you are acting and living your values and your loves, and those are messages that you owe to your children.
You may not be able to pursue any of your passions in quite the same way and to quite the same extent that you might have before you had a child. You may have to negotiate the time, hour by hour, acknowledging what is most important, and trading it, perhaps, for what is most important to your partner, if you have one. You’ll be, by definition, a different painter, as you would be a different runner, a different dancer, a different friend and a different world-saver. But you may well come to realize that the experience of taking care of a small child helps you concentrate in a stronger, almost fiercer way, when you get that precious hour to yourself.
How to Find Balance
Lots of parents worry that their children get an unreasonable amount of homework, and that homework can start unreasonably young. While it may be easy to advise that homework can help a child learn time management and study habits, and to let children try themselves and sometimes fail, the reality is that many of us find ourselves supervising at least a little. You should speak up if it seems that one particular teacher isn’t following the school’s guidelines for appropriate amounts of homework. And for many children, it’s helpful to talk through the stages of big projects and important assignments, so they can get some intermediate dates on the calendar. If the homework struggle dominates your home life, it may be a sign of another issue, like a learning disability.
For many families nowadays, the single biggest negotiation about time management is around screen time. This may be because screens serve so many purposes in children’s lives, so that screen time can be homework time (but is the chatting that goes on in a corner really part of the assignment?) or social time or pure entertainment time. Bottom line: As long as a child is doing decently in school, you probably shouldn’t worry too much about whether, by your standards, the homework looks like it is being done with too many distractions.
And remember, some family responsibilities can help anchor a child to the nonvirtual world: a dog to be walked or trash to be taken out. And when it comes to fun, let your child see that you value the non-homework part of the evening, or the weekend, that you understand that time with friends is important, and that you want to be kept up to date on what’s going on, and to talk about your own life. Ultimately, we have to practice what we preach, from putting down our own work to enjoy unstructured family time to putting down our phones at the dinner table to engage in a family discussion. Our children are listening to what we say, and watching what we do.
HOW TO RECOVER FROM BETRAYAL (NOT JUST LOVE BETRAYAL, BUT BETRAYAL OF ALL KINDS)
Betrayal is incredibly painful. It’s hard to heal
and move on. If you’re searching for how to recover from betrayal – in a
realistic way – read on.
endured a huge betrayal from an unlikely place – a younger woman whom
I was close friends with and mentored for many years. When we first met, she
was trying to write and sell a book – to no avail.
I gave her an idea for a book – then helped her to write the
proposal – asking for no upfront money – just a small 10% back
end commission – should the book sell. She enthusiastically
agreed – thanking me profusely for not charging her upfront for my time. She
had a lawyer draw up papers – which we each signed.
shock, soon after I got her the highly successful book deal
she’d always dreamed about, she turned into an “All About Eve” kind of character –
displaying low-character behavior – in a variety of fibbing,
royalty-hiding and contract-breaking ways.
point, I’ll stop sharing specific details of the story – because my
purpose for this essay is not to complain! Quite the
opposite! I want to share my path to recovery. I
want to help others who are also suffering from a betrayal – either from a
friend, a relative, a spouse, a love partner, a colleague, a boss, a neighbor.
betrayal can destroy so many varied kinds of relationships – and turn
one’s view of the world topsy turvy.
of my main upside-down effects after this woman’s betrayal:
myself less eager to socialize. In particular, I felt nervous to open
my heart to new friendships – and thereby to new pain. I felt hesitant to help
others with books and projects. I worried they too might take advantage.
Plus I did not want to go any place I might see this betrayer: events, cafes,
gyms, yoga studios, social clubs. All my usual haunts now felt haunted by
a potential sighting of her.
initial solution to recover from betrayal:
myself I needed to take some time alone to heal and gain insight. So
I chose to stay in my home more, socialize less. It was easy to do. I’d
just become pregnant. Then I became a mom. In fact, at the time I thought
I was going into a healthful “cocoon” – a less social, nesting period.
it turned out, I was entering a “cave.”
COCOON is a quiet, comfortable place you go to evolve into a
more beautiful you. It’s a safe haven to experiment with new, uplifting
thought patterns. When you emerge, you feel in your full, majestic
power – flying higher and further than before.
A CAVE is a quiet, uncomfortable place you go
to think and brood – to hibernate. Instead of spending time thinking
grand thoughts, you growl. You view the world as cold and unsafe.
How did I finally realize I was in a cave not a cocoon?
thought about leaving my home to socialize, I found myself feeling heavy in the
fact, if you ever want to know if you’re in a cocoon or a cave – check in to
feel the weight of your heart when you think about leaving your home.
feel light in the heart, you’re telling yourself “Butterfly Stories” about the
world – viewing life as a beautiful, safe haven to spread your wings.
telling myself “Bear Stories.” I was even doing “Bear Math.”
person = 1 untrustworthy person
person = infinite untrustworthy people
Psychologists have a term for this “Bear Lens On The World.” They call
it “Permanent and Pervasive Thinking.” It’s when you tell yourself stories
which make you feel like one negative incident has permanent, pervasive,
lifelong negative effects.
my case, these were some of my permanent and pervasive stories:
can’t trust anyone.”
an idiot for being suckered!”
shouldn’t help people any more – they just take advantage.”
1 bad thing means I need to keep my heart safely stored in a betrayal-proof
I’m not proud of these thoughts. They are grizzly “Bear
Thoughts.” And they were keeping my life limited, dark, dank – and making
me feel batty – all signs I was in a cave – not a cocoon!
a cave is a place you go to shrink your life – a prison for the soul.
cocoon is where you go to grow your life – an ashram for the soul.
me a while to look around and realize I was in a cave. I just knew my heart
felt heavier when I thought about going outside to play with others. So I
decided to journal about my heavy heart. That’s when I realized I was telling
myself painful permanent/pervasive stories – triggered by this friend’s
you can’t change your past, you can control the story you tell about it –
and thereby change the effects your past has upon your future.
decided the time had come to rewrite my story so it was a happier one.
In my journal, I began by writing
down all my permanent/pervasive thoughts. Next to each, I wrote how
non-permanent/non-pervasive the situation truly was!
should simply be making me anti-jerks. I realized I
should even look upon this betrayal with a bit of gratitude – because
it was a powerful reminder to honor my intuition
more -and stop being color blind to red flags
– no matter if they show up as smaller red hankees.
be told, looking back, there were times I felt this woman’s energy to be pushy
in an uncomfortable, aggressive way.)
event was not meant to stop me from trusting. It was meant to stop me from
ignoring my gut – and thereby keep me safe from falling for even
bigger business betrayals down the road.
some people do suck. But not ALL people! Plus, I should never allow someone who
sucks to suck all the joy out of my day – and my life!
it’s bad when someone’s a jerk. But things could be worst. I could be the
person who’s doing sucky, low-character things.
am truly proud of NOT being someone who could behave so badly. Indeed I feel
compassion for my betrayer. She is stuck living with herself – while I get
to move on and away.
could I move on and away, when I was still
holding onto resentment? After all, anybody who angers me is actually
controlling me – which means they are still an active (and negative) presence
in my life. If I wanted to be happy, I needed “To Pull An Elsa” –
and “Let it go”!
“I’m an idiot for being suckered!”
re-read this permanent/pervasive thought, I realized I was displaying the
classic case of “blaming the victim.”
that I enjoyed using the word “victim.” In fact, I’ll be writing more
about the word “victim” at the bottom of this essay!)
calling myself “an idiot” is showing anger and shame at myself – rather than
focusing the anger and shame where it more rightfully belongs – on my betrayer!
re-wrote my word choice from “I am an idiot” to “I am a wronged person.”
reason I was wronged did not truly have to do with intelligence.
simply didn’t see the betrayal coming, because I never would have done such a
thing. My heart is awake, good, active. My heart values loyalty, strong
character and sticking to commitments. Not just for legal reasons – but moral
remembered a quote I’d heard: “Fools take a knife and stab people
in the back. The wise take a knife, cut the cord and free themselves from the
decided that since I very much value the trait of being a non-idiot –
that I should do this wise choice – cut the emotional cord – and set
myself free as a butterfly leaving a cocoon! The best way to cut the
cord? Forgiveness. Yes, even if the betrayer was not sorry, forgiveness was
could I forgive? I needed to keep reminding myself: Forgiveness doesn’t excuse my betrayer’s behavior. Forgiveness
simply stops her behavior from destroying my heart!
it helped to keep in mind a great Wayne Dyer quote: “How people treat you
is their karma. How you react is yours.”
1 bad thing means I need to permanently keep my heart safely stored in a
betrayal-proof Tupperwear container.”
first re-read this particular pervasive/permanent story, I chuckled. I
wondered: “Why should I punish myself for the crime this
woman committed? Isn’t that misplaced punishment?” And
this new choice (to avoid letting love into my life) was very much a
all, love is good stuff! I love love!
whenever I push friends and/or potential-new-friends away, it’s as if I’m
punishing these people for the sins of my betrayer!
again I was reminded of the lessons I should be
learning: “Pay attention to the energy I feel around
people. Listen to my gut!”
be told, it wasn’t my trust in other people that was being shaken up by this
betrayal. It was my trust in myself
needed to re-gain my trust in my abilities to see people clearly! So I gave
myself another writing assignment: Jot down all the times I’ve trusted my
life choices – and I was correct. Write about all the awesome, trust-worthy,
loving friends I’ve chosen to be in my life – so I’m reminded that I
have a “good internal picker” and that love is indeed good stuff.
“I shouldn’t help people any more – they just take advantage.”
re-read this permanent/pervasive thought, I also saw it as a form of self-punishment
– because I love helping people! I shouldn’t become less of me because
this woman showed low character values.
should become even more aware of how important strong character values are to
me – and embrace them even more fully.
gave myself another writing assignment: Write down a list of people
I’ve helped with creative projects – and stay reminded how most people
do NOT take advantage, fib and break contracts.
wrote about how good it always feels to help and support people – a win/win –
for both the giver and receiver!
If you’re presently recovering from a betrayal, I encourage
you to watch out for thinking painful, permanent and pervasive thoughts.
refuse to become a member of that club called “People Suck.” Please refuse
to distribute any of that club’s untrue literature.
I invite you to join me in a club called “You Live. You Learn. Life Gets
Better. Yes, You Can And Will Trust Again.”
we can’t always control what happens to us, we can control our response.
choose the role of victim – focusing on blame, anger, regret and resentment.
can choose the role of victor – seeking support, healing our wounds, retrieving
our power, and moving forward stronger and wiser than before.
Over the years, I’ve learned that a
great deal of the control we believe we have over our lives is an absolute
illusion. For example, I’ve recently met …
a young man who had
his life turned upside down by cancer
a young woman, and
mother of two, who lost her husband to death at 27
employee who lost her job when her employer of 25 years filed for bankruptcy
and many, many more
people just like them
It happens every single day; we
wrestle with situations and circumstances we think we can control, but we
So what can we do?
The only choice we have …
In the game of life, we all receive a unique set of unexpected limitations and
variables in the field of play. The question is: How will you respond to the
hand you’ve been dealt? You can either focus on the lack thereof or empower
yourself to play the game sensibly and resourcefully, making the very best of
every outcome as it arises, even when it’s heartbreaking and hard to accept.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the mind is our biggest
It’s the place where the strongest conflict resides. It’s where half of the
things we thought were going to happen, never did happen. It’s where our
expectations always get the best of us. It’s where we fall victim to our
cravings to control the uncontrollable.
Without a doubt, we all face our share of difficult circumstances, many of
which are not the results of anything we’ve done. Think about the people I
mentioned above. Like them, we have choices when it comes to how we’ll respond
to seemingly-random tragedies that afflict us.
The choice is as simple as it is universal:
Grit our teeth and
try to move the immovable object, and become frustrated and bitter when we
realize we can’t.
Let it be. Let go.
Paradoxically, the first choice is
easier because it’s our default action. We want control because feeling out of
control is utterly terrifying.
You need to know how to let go—how to understand the difference between what
you can control and what you can’t.
Empowering yourself to relinquish control is one of the greatest gifts you can
give yourself—the ability to exist peacefully amidst the chaos of life.
If you feel yourself slowly collapsing under the weight of life and
circumstances, we have a proven path to a more peaceful life. We’d love to
share it with you.
French philosopher François-Marie Arouet once said:
“We are free at the instant we wish to be.”
And of course, if you’re struggling with any of this, know that you are
not alone. Many of us are right there with you, working hard to think
more clearly, respond to life more effectively, and get ourselves back on
I GOT MARRIED IN JEANS BUT OUR MARRIAGE GOT SERIOUS
Luke Dani Blue
Editor’s Note: We’ve
been studying relationships for the last four decades, but we still have so
much to learn. Through the individual stories and experiences shared in Real
Relationships, we aim to paint a more realistic picture of love in the world today.
The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to
the author, and are not necessarily based on research conducted by The Gottman
Institute. Submit your Real Relationship story here.
Last February, my
sister-in-law asked my partner, Migueltzinta, “Do you and Luke ever think of
getting married?” At the time, Tzinta and I had been married for four years.
It’s not so surprising
that she would have forgotten. Tzinta and I got married as we do all things: on
our own, impulsive terms and with a (dignified) F-you to social expectations.
In this case, at a courthouse under a papier-mache Valentine’s Day heart, with
a diner breakfast as a celebratory chaser. Migueltzinta wore a tie. I’m pretty
sure I was wearing jeans.
We’d been together for
three and a half years, and already agreed we wanted to be together for life,
when we ordered our fateful seafood molcajete on the balcony of a touristy
restaurant in southern Guadalajara. Octopus tentacles sizzled in the lava rock,
the green salsa bubbled, and the tortillas were soft as worn-in denim. Food
that good merited a dramatic gesture.
“Should we get married?”
I asked. “Okay,” he said. We exchanged a look—I dare you. No, I dare
you—and grinned at each other. Hetero couples and families strolled in the
courtyard below the balcony. We were invisible up there in the dark, savoring
the dish too large and messy for most people to bother ordering, suddenly
engaged. Although we were the only people to whom any of this was a shock, we
loved the feeling of our own outrageousness. How dare we betray expectations by
doing the one thing most expected of any couple, and yet with so little
apparent regard for what it was supposed to mean?
The thing was, we both
said “married” and “wedding” with fingers crooked into quotes. It’s not exactly
that we were too cool for marriage. We were too skeptical. We were trans people
who had spent our childhoods deconstructing girlhood and our adulthoods questioning
and violating the rules of manhood. Tzinta regularly posted nude pictures on
the internet, hashtagging them #ManPussy. I cringed involuntarily when anyone
referred to me with either male or female pronouns, but was going through a
long hair and skirts phase. Because of the vagaries of identification laws, my
revised birth certificate had an ‘M’ on it and butch Tzinta’s had an ‘F’,
meaning that legally, we were straight. This, especially, titillated us.
Marriage was a fancy house we hadn’t been invited into and we wanted to dance
on the sofa in muddy shoes.
We had no plans to be
monogamous, wear rings, change our names, or label either of ourselves husband
or wife or some cutesy genderqueered alternative (wifeband? Hufe?). We
also weren’t going to pretend that stamping our relationship with a “MARRIED”
sticker changed its fundamental makeup, gave it a fresh beginning, or made it
safer. Break-ups still happened to married people, as did jealousy, betrayal,
and loneliness. All marriage meant, really, was that we could visit each other
in the hospital and that no cop or court or interfering parent could split us
up. That felt like one big gay freedom.
This past November,
Tzinta fell in love with a trans guy who lives far away. Swiftly, the rest of
our relationship seemed to collapse too: trust, plans for the future, our
ability to laugh audaciously at the same jokes.
I binged on therapy
podcasts, stayed up all night doing online quizzes about attachment trauma, and
checked out piles of relationship books from the library. Even the best of them
(the ones by Harriet Lerner, the Gottmans, and Esther Perel) tended to describe
predictable behavior dynamics between a male and female partner. The men, it
seemed, were supposed to evade intimacy and seek independence. The women in the
case studies tended to get clingy, dread abandonment, and over-accommodate.
Hungry for any help at
all, I tried my best to apply the examples to our relationship. Which of us is
the man? I found myself wondering. Also, which of us is the woman? Tzinta is,
without question, very manly. He loves western wear, has a well-oiled beard and
when lost in thought, which is often, frowns with crossed arms, gazing into the
middle distance. Like the men in the books, Tzinta kept telling me he wanted
more space and more silence. He wanted to do a solo three-month road trip and
camp the whole way. He wanted lots of sex, with other guys. He wanted to run.
It seemed like lately all he wanted to do was run. Man, man, man.
All I wanted
lately was his approval and attention. I wanted him to walk in the door excited
to see me. I wanted to be enough for him. This qualified me for the woman role.
Maybe. Except that earlier in our relationship, I’d fallen for someone else too
and all I’d wanted then was to push Tzinta away. I’d fantasized about moving
into a studio apartment and single-mindedly pursuing my career with a few
lovers on the side for entertainment. Man?
The fact was, Tzinta fit
the “woman” role better than I did. Besides the stereotypical stuff—he loves
clothes, especially glittery or tight ones; he cries a lot; he’s extremely
empathetic—the reasons he was mad at me were “woman” reasons: I didn’t make him
feel pretty, I didn’t support him, I wasn’t a good listener, I shut down in the
face of his feelings, he was tired of sacrificing his personal desires for
Defeated, I pushed aside
the pile of books and closed the computer. It was late. Exhaustion beat hotly
against the insides of my eyelids. Tzinta was asleep downstairs but he felt a
million miles away. Any other time in our relationship, I could have savored
this joke, knowing I’d share it with him in the morning. “I realized,” I would
say, “that you just have more gender than I do.” It would have been hilarious
to think that Tzinta was both more of a man and more of a
woman than I was, if I hadn’t been terrified that I was about to lose him.
Tzinta was going away for
a long weekend. Our goodbye was chilly. He pushed me away, then cried and
wanted me to come close again. It was the same hot-cold stuff that had been
going on for months. I felt like a spaceship leaving earth’s orbit, Tzinta’s pain
and frustration winking far below before being swept into blackness. I thought,
how much more of this can I take? Tzinta kissed me and the dog, got in the car,
and drove away.
As soon as he was gone,
the blackness of outer space turned out to be a hurt larger than comprehension.
It kept sneaking up and pouncing. I’d thrash on the floor until the mauling
stopped, then get up and continue whatever I’d been doing. It took five hours
to do laundry.
We didn’t talk or text
that weekend. Instead, we contemplated life without one another. It turned out,
as it always seems to, that my life would go on without him. I didn’t like it,
but it was imaginable.
Do fights ever end or do
they just go to sleep? Does love? Maybe, I thought, getting older is knowing
that there is no exit. I could lose Tzinta or not but I would still be wedded
to myself. Still circling my own fears and wounds with whoever else was on
On Monday, Tzinta came
back. I let him in. We talked. For the first time in a long, long while, we
The darkest period in our
eight-year relationship has, I hope, passed. For reasons of their own, Tzinta
and his lover broke up. It didn’t make our problems go away. It didn’t make the
things I’ve done over the years that hurt Tzinta magically erase themselves and
it didn’t make the ways he’s hurt me this year not matter.
Recently, I’ve found
myself thinking about our courthouse wedding. Particularly, about this thing
that happened while we were responding to the courthouse-provided vows. “I do,”
said Tzinta, tears rolling down his cheeks. My hands stiffened in his. I felt
pure fear. Not over the commitment—I had committed to him in my heart months
before—but because of his tears. I had thought getting married didn’t mean
anything other than a beautiful dare, a crazy joyride through heteronormative
convention. But when Tzinta cried, it dawned on me that I missed something.
Some complexity, some reason it could make him weep.
At the time, I thought I
was just embarrassed about my jeans and lack of tears—the general discomfort of
not matching Tzinta’s intensity. Now, though, I wonder if I was, simply, sad.
After all, I had missed the opportunity to make the symbol of marriage my own.
I still don’t believe
that marriage is inherently meaningful or that the four years Tzinta and I have
been married can really be distinguished from the four years we weren’t. In my
mind, the clock of us begins on my birthday in 2011, when we were two near-strangers
shyly grinding in a sweaty queer bar in Mexico City. Each year since then has
added a layer of complexity.
Now, in this pit of
difficulty, love, and effort, is the most married we have ever been. By which I
mean, I think, we’ve done the most growing into and through our emotional bond.
That would be just as true without a piece of paper from Alameda County.
But I wish we had some
vows to fall back on, rather than a list of negatives, like “not monogamous,”
“not embracing false security,” and “not becoming our parents.” In the dark,
it’s good to have a light to circle back to. Something to remind you who the
two of you are together. Even a rule or two would be nice, so long as they were
good ones, like “remember to give compliments” or “go on dates.”
Recently, I said to
Tzinta, “Maybe we should have a real wedding.” He considered that but said it
would feel like we were trying to start over. He didn’t want to start over, he
said. It had been enough work to get to where we were. Hearing that, I again
felt the sadness of a missed opportunity. A weight began to resettle on my
“Let’s do a huge party
for our tenth anniversary instead,” he suggested. And because he is still him,
and I am still me, I said, impulsively, willingly, full of a sense of brightness,
“Okay.” And then, “What food are we going to serve?”