Love, Loss, and the Awesome Power of Choice

I’ve written several times over the last few years about relationships, love, and loss. I’ve had what seemed like great lovers, only to realize they aren’t and never really were. I’ve dated women who seemed interested, only to find they weren’t willing to give as much as they take. One lover in particular has inspired this piece, and I doubt she’ll ever read it (a testament to how little she cares). If she does, maybe it will help her understand my point of view a little better. If not, so be it. This is not about her. It’s about me.

As of today, I am abstaining from the chase.

I don’t anticipate giving up on dating entirely and living a monk’s celibate life. I like intimacy and sex way too much to do that. Instead, I’m deciding not to try anymore. I’m finally taking the advice I’ve heard over and over for years: “you try too hard. just let it happen naturally.”

After all this time, I finally understand what that means. I thought for many years I could never take this advice because it felt like every fiber of my soul was screaming things like “don’t give up!” and “nothing happens when you make no effort.” While I still agree with those feelings, I must acknowledge that many of my past relationships have been unbalanced, almost one-sided. I do so much to fuel the fire that my lover stops doing anything, once they believe they no longer need to try. This is what many people refer to as “taking someone for granted,” and anyone who has experienced this will know how it feels once this line is crossed. Respect is lost, and there’s no going back.

My friends, my family, and even strangers I meet randomly in the world, when told the stories of my struggles, universally say this:

“Fuck that noise! She doesn’t know what she has. You’re ready for something real and she’s just a party girl. When she turns 40 and looks around to see the bunch of 20-somethings she has for friends, if she has that at all, she’ll see what she lost.”

My rational solution-finding brain tells me to attempt to avoid this outcome through communication and compassion. I want to talk about it, hug it out, and reach mutual understanding. The reality is simple – there is no problem to be solved. I’ve manufactured a problem because that’s the only way I can make sense of the irrational behavior I observe.

About a year ago, when I first started into a rough patch with my girlfriend, my mother gave me the following advice: “walk away at the first sign of trouble.” My natural reaction to conflict has always been to try to find middle ground. At the time, I was going through some highly stressful drama, and my girlfriend told me she couldn’t handle it and wanted a break. Basically, at the peak of my struggle, when I needed support most, she bailed.

My unbearably predictable reaction was to negotiate. I didn’t want her to leave because I loved her. I tried to find a way to understand her needs, sacrificing mine in the process, thus doubling down on my stress in a gamble for my happiness; I lost the bet. What she did was an awful thing to do, especially to someone you love. I knew it then, as I know it now. I was hurt by her casual disregard for my needs. It took the better part of a year to realize this, but now I can say with certainty she didn’t love me. It was a word she used to control my behavior to get what she wanted. I doubt she was conscious of it, but that’s exactly what it was. Like others before her, she used me to get something she wanted.

Today, I draw a line in the sand. No more of that. There is such power in choice. The act of standing up for a belief is exciting and engaging. People spend their whole lives choosing from the options in front of them instead of finding more options. When you don’t like the options, make new ones. I don’t like feeling like I’m always chasing, so I choose not to chase. As my best advice to guys who struggle with dating has always been “be the pretty girl, and let them come to you,” I’m finally taking my own advice.

Do I still love her? Yes. Did we have some great times? Absolutely. Is it worth sacrificing my needs to spend time with her? Fuck no! And this goes for everyone I’ll ever meet.

My new plan is not to have a plan; to live fully in every experience, invest emotionally and intellectually, and walk away when it’s not what I want. It’s a terrifying and brilliant future, so far outside my comfort zone that I will be forced to be comfortable. I can’t wait ūüôā

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Why Text Message Read Receipts Are So Important

Remember that time you received a text message from your crush? You thought to yourself,

“oh no, I don’t want to appear desperate and reply right away. shit, how long am I supposed to wait before sending a reply?? oh shit! I forgot to turn read receipts off on my new iPhone! they already know I saw this message… what will they think if I don’t answer?? surely, I must never speak to them again. so embarrassing!”

Me neither.

A cursory scan of Google results for “text message read receipts” yields something I might have expected from a trashy teen romance novel about vampires. (why are they always about vampires?!) The top results are blog posts imploring you to turn off your read receipts, lest you be transparent to your potential friends. It’s almost as if being clear and straight-forward about your intentions is a sure-fire way to lose friends and be labeled a loser.

If Google is to be believed, the status quo has devolved into a sea of people neurotically manufacturing reasons why they didn’t reply to a text message immediately. The most common reason seems to rely on an overt lie:

“oh, I didn’t see your text message.”

While many people appear to agree with this approach, they may not realize it sends a different message than they might intend. By choosing the path of active misinformation, they accidentally send this message instead:

“I don’t respect you enough to be honest about my interactions with you.”

The reason I turn on read receipts, and also why I have great respect for the friends who do the same, is quite simple. I may take time to compose a response after receiving a message from someone, sometimes hours or even days later. But I’m not worried if they think I’m dead or in jail or that they’ll think I don’t like them anymore when I don’t respond within a few minutes. They are confident in our relationship and trust that I will honor them with a response eventually. They understand I am a respectful and thoughtful person who genuinely tells people when I don’t want to interact with them, that I am direct and honest in my communication with others. They are compassionate souls who empathize with the perpetual state of being busy with work and life. Like most people, they just want to know if I saw the message.

And if they don’t receive a read receipt from me, letting them know I saw the message, when it’s urgent, they pick up the phone and call me. And if I can, I answer, because that’s the kind of friend I want to be. I don’t always answer, but I always make time to return the call. Because it matters to me that they understand how much I respect them.

Don’t Hide Your Love Away: An Open Letter About Sex and Communication

This post is for men. Ladies, you’re free to read it, and hopefully you can help the guys learn a little about love and sex. Mostly, it’s for all those fools who think it’s better to withhold their feelings. It’s the 21st century. Men are allowed to have a more refined sense of awareness and expression when it comes to their feelings.

John Lennon was wrong. You don’t have to hide your love away. You can, but you’ll regret it. Sure, it may feel like people are laughing at you, and¬†maybe they are. If they are, it’s because you expect to be immune to suffering, yet you bleed out every day by your own hand. Love is something to be experienced to its fullest. You simply can’t do that if you hide it. Men are taught to keep their feelings inside, never to be shared even with their most intimate lovers. Women are taught to be attracted to men who bury their feelings and never discuss them. I’ve met a lot of really feminine women who seek a sensitive, creative, affectionate man in theory, only to act on naive notions of caveman culture, to be beaten into submission and dragged off and raped. I have actually heard educated women say out loud “I wish he would just come over to my house and rape me. God, that would be so hot!” The first time I heard that, I was horrified.

Do we need an intervention? Show me on the Pikachu doll where the bad man touched you, honey.

Jokes aside,¬†it’s much more complicated than that, and yet simple at the same time. Women are indoctrinated at a young age to compartmentalize their affections. Their fathers were¬†busy building the family foundation, earning money so they could, in point of fact, bring home the bacon. That bacon was what the whole family ate every morning, and without it everyone would suffer. Fatherhood evolved as a form of automata. Mom’s¬†job was to fend off disease, starvation, and boredom. Dad’s job was to keep Mom equipped with a constant supply of food, water, and shelter and defend against attacks from external influence. Mom is a nurturing provider, while Dad is a stoic sentinel. These roles are far more pervasive in modern society than we might want to admit.

With the advent of the first world came a more sensible egalitarian philosophy about the delegation of responsibilities in the household. Since Mom is now allowed to vote and earn money, the lines are blurred. The stay-at-home Dad phenomenon became a viable option when Mom’s skills in the workplace were potentially more lucrative than Dad’s skills. The hardest part happens when Mom and Dad both leave the house to exercise their skills to bring home dinner. Yet we still read in popular media¬†all about how families struggle with gender equality in the natural order of things in the home. Men continue to have the attitude that women cook and clean. Women complain about being treated like live-in maids. Women continue to develop complex sexual fantasies involving the rugged and trustworthy milkman, even though milk hasn’t been delivered to anyone’s home in nearly 50yrs. Men continue to develop inherent mistrust of any other man who might wander within 20m of the house when they’re not home, as if their wives are helpless victims-to-be. That doesn’t sound like a healthy respectful atmosphere to me.

At the root of it all is the core behavior of withholding our feelings about love and sex. American culture is steeped in the doubt and self-loathing of sex as currency. We use competitive metaphors to describe how men “win” sex from women by rounding the bases on a baseball field. Teenage boys brag about “making it to third base” instead of talking about how much they respect the girl next door for her creativity and intelligence. In their minds, they are conning her into “giving it up,” as if she derives no pleasure from the experience. Imagine their confusion when she says frankly “I want to have sex with you now.” Some part buried deep in their caveman brain will think she’s deceiving them, that it can’t be so easy. Instead of having open honest communication resulting in mutual satisfaction, their defenses go up and they label her a lying bitch, thus destroying the moment that would otherwise have led rather quickly to the thing they both wanted in the first place.

Have we all regressed to being insecure children about this most fundamental aspect of humanity?

Communication doesn’t need to be the thing that destroys the mystery. I promise there’s plenty of mystery¬†to go around. Communication is the hardest thing anyone can ever do. It requires mountains of patience, a willingness to be humble and honest, substantial self-worth on all sides, and the tools and training to build trust and chart a path to mutually beneficial outcomes. It all comes down to being confident in your own desires and having the courage to state them clearly.

You might be surprised how exciting it is to express that you’d like to lick something off your partner’s naked body and see them reach for the whipped cream and start slicing berries. The simple act of participation can be orders of magnitude more interesting than the hope of being overpowered. And with the right kind of open expression, you can ask to be roughly handled, bordering on abuse, taking you closer to the edge than you ever thought possible, all without ever losing the trust and safety with your partner. This is possible because of open discussion. In fact, conversation is what brings us all closer together, not just the mingling of slippery body parts. Just remember to agree on¬†a safe word and always respect the safe word. Knowing where the line is and refusing to cross it will help strengthen your¬†bond. When you’re near that line, remind your partner how much you love them.¬†Actually, any time you think of your partner during the day, let them know. Over time, you’ll find those little moments add up to a deeper relationship.

Also remember this: vaginas are tough; testicles are the fragile parts. Think about that next time you call someone a pussy.

Measure Behavior. Stop Asking for Feedback

“Hey Twitterverse! Check out our new awesome app concept. Enter your email address to be included in our arbitrarily limited beta. We’ll nag you for feedback after you’ve barely used our hastily assembled product. It’s going to be epic! We’ll make billions and you’ll get this rad t-shirt.”

Does this sound familiar? There’s a good chance you’ve heard of some new concept before, making big claims about what they are eventually going to do for the world. Often, the people who build these concepts have no experience doing so. The lucky ones have guidance from mentors, folks who have founded, built, and sold companies before. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that some mentors are lucky enough to work with startup founders who listen. In nearly every case of entrepreneurial failure I’ve witnessed, the founders were reluctant to hear any advice that put them outside their plans and expectations about their business. Some died a quick painless death. Others managed to collect revenue, only to wallow in the pit of customer retention despair.

What was their primary mistake? Asking for feedback.

Many first-time entrepreneurs build immediately, based on their intuitions and (hopefully) years of experience dealing with some pain in a specific industry. They do not take time to survey potential customers. They are often blinded by the belief that they must be first to market. It never hurts to be first to market, unless you’ve rushed to get there. Typical bootstrappers have no budget, which means they choose to skip important steps, such as persona development and user research. Instead, they go straight to visual design so they can have pretty pictures to show investors. From there, they hire code monkeys to make software that looks like the pictures. This is exhausting for everyone involved, as no high level awareness of the core product exists without sketches and storyboards, which were skipped to keep costs low. Eventually, they send out those beta invites to the few hundred people who have expressed interest.

“Tell us what you think!” might as well be “share your deepest concerns about your edge case, so we can focus our time building things only one user requested instead of the one thing we set out to do in the first place.”

Publishing a product and allowing it to grow organically is a great way to gauge customer interest. It’s also an excellent path to information that will serve far greater purpose than customer feedback. By reviewing analytics of actual user behavior, we see a pure unfiltered stream of high quality information. Communication is hard. People lie. They don’t ask for what they really want. They are inarticulate. Behavior data never lies. Ask for feedback, and you’ll hear many suggestions for features. You’ll need to interpret the feedback, collect similar ideas, prioritize the resulting feature requests, and make difficult choices about which features to add and in what order. Look at behavior analytics, and you’ll see precisely the point in your workflow where users give up. If 75% of your users click cancel at the end of an interaction, there’s a good chance the interface is hard to use.

Focus on what you know, not what you think you know, nor what you hope to be true. Hope is not a business model. Feedback is at best a distraction. User research and behavior analytics are your salvation.

A Whole New You

Often, we hear the same story told again and again. People don’t change. Well, I’m here to tell you that’s a bunch of bullshit. What folks mean when they say that is “you can’t change people.” That’s some good advice and probably the purest truth I’ve ever encountered. I can’t change you. I can inspire you. I can offend you. I can even teach you new things, which seems like changing you, but it’s really just catalyzing your personal growth. And that’s the crux – personal growth. Growth is good, and I encourage it. There is something more powerful, though, that is the topic of tonight’s musings. That is making a whole new you.

When I first started to make sense of this concept, I found myself gravitating toward common metaphors. Rebirth, reincarnation, and the cycle of the phoenix all came to the forefront of my mind. I latched onto this idea of being deconstructed and reassembled in an improved way. That, also, is a bunch of bullshit, stagnant and unchanging. Sure, it looks like change, what with the flaming death and subsequent rebirth. As I ponder on this, I encounter a challenge identifying how this is actually change. It’s no different from conservation of matter or energy. But this is spirituality, not causality. There is no law of conservation of soul.

I also don’t mean to say that this form of “new” involves the destruction of your soul, nor its subsequent reintegration into corporeal form. This kind of “new” is about how you view the world. It has taken me the better part of 18 months to realize this, but I died. Well, the parts of me I didn’t like died. And they didn’t come back from that. I don’t want them anymore. It wasn’t a conscious choice, like which flavor of cream cheese to put on my bagel. It was the natural culmination of years of self-denial. My beautiful truth was beaten down by self-abusive doubt and eggshell walking. Eventually, something snapped, and my world ended. And it needed to end.

It hasn’t been easy. In so many ways, I feel like a baby, just born and still figuring out what those wobbly blurry things are that keep waving in front of me. I’ve only recently started to appreciate that those are indeed my arms and legs. More interestingly, I’m starting to see the other things in my new life, things I didn’t have before. I’m genuinely kind now where I was once kurt and brutally honest. I feel a strong need to connect with people, and not just to lecture them on how to be better humans. I listen more than I ever have, and for the first time I’m actually hearing things I never heard before. It’s almost overwhelming, almost.

So, how do you achieve this new you? Simple. Say to yourself this sentence and be ready for the complete and utter shit-your-pants confrontational truth, when you realize you’ve never actually tried to define yourself before:

<your name> is a person who <fill in the blank>

Now’s your chance to be amazing. All it takes is a bit of focus, and you can change your entire world, everything you ever thought possible. Aubrey is a guy who will show you how beautiful your truth can be.

Breaking Personal Patterns

Years ago, I wrote a post about one-sided relationships. This morning, I went back and read that post again. It rings as true now as it did then, but with different context. As I read it again, I felt myself resonating with my own words, but in a different light. This week, another relationship ended. As I’ve spent the last few days trying to make sense of things and find closure, I’ve thought back on all the moments we shared together. My goal was to truly identify moments in the past where I put rose-colored glasses on. I wanted to understand better the situations that trigger my ostrich dance, the one where I close my eyes and ignore key aspects of the world around me in favor of my own world view. This is a crippling pattern I must stop.

As with the last time, I am open, able, and ready to nurture a deep spiritual bond. I am hopeful to build a strong emotional connection with another sacred soul. I am inspired to explore a rich intellectual attraction with another open mind. I am excited to play and seek new experiences and adventure with another sexual creature. All these things I feel for my love. All these things I see resonate in her when my heart shines on hers. Still, something holds her back from fully expressing her true self. It’s time for me to accept that she needs time to address her own hurdles. There is simply nothing more I can do. As I swallow my stomach and wipe tears from my eyes, I know this doesn’t need to hurt. There’s no script that says she will never call me again. That’s a script from an old and tired story. This time, we write a new story.

This time, I don’t hide behind fear or pain. Yes, it hurts, but what I lost this week was not my love. I will always have that. Even with all the betrayal from my last great love, I still miss her. I still want the best for her, and I believe maybe one day she will reach out to reconnect. This great love is different. With the last one, I lost hope of even having a friendship. Her betrayal was so painful that it took years to forgive her and move on. With this one, I lost only my rose-colored glasses. I lost the feeling that she and I share a common goal of building a life together. I lost the future I had planned, a future in which I was really happy with her and our children. The glasses had convinced me that she shared that dream. In truth, I never actually asked her what her dream was. It’s time to change that.

So this is my new story. I will not allow her actions to dictate mine. She does not have the tools to express her true self in a way I hear clearly. That means we can not be together romantically, but it doesn’t mean I must say goodbye forever. As I said in the post years ago, I seek vulnerability. I wanted this, so I could grow stronger. Her hurtful words could have inspired me to twist my love into hate. Instead, I choose to further invest in love. I will continue to reach out to her, to be the friend she needs, to help her when she needs help, and to expect nothing in return. It will take time for me to be ready again to seek a new great love. From now on, I follow my new path, and I see the world as it truly is. Most importantly, I know now to stop myself when I feel rosy.

Communicating with Complex Personality

For almost all of us, there come times when we feel like we just can’t quite get through to someone, like there’s something in the way, and no one really knows exactly what it is. When we face those situations, it’s important to maintain some perspective about who the other person is and how they react to their environment. Simply considering some basic fundamental things about the experience can make a huge impact on the actions and reactions we take during the exchange.

Take, for example, a scenario involving a dipolar couple. (Not to be confused with bipolar. That’s another story for another author.) One half of the couple is an extravert posture. The other is in an introvert posture.

Sidebar: I use the term posture here as a means of highlighting the moody nature of the extravert/introvert spectrum. In many complex ways, our behavior follows one path or another depending on mood and social relationships. There are some aspects of our behavior that are governed by deeper forces – the unyielding forces of our moral and spiritual cores. In this context, we’re focused on the transient behavior as a posture.

If one half of the dipolar couple encounters some obstacle to their happiness, he or she may seek comfort and support from the partner. This is a natural and healthy response we all experience, seeking guidance from our community. Let’s consider two cases, really the same case from different perspectives.

If the troubled half is the extravert, he or she will naturally seek to discuss the issue with the partner (external processing). This can be very effective, up to the point when the introvert feels overwhelmed. Beyond that threshold, the partner will withdraw in order to take time for introspection before offering support. If the extravert is unable to acknowledge this for what it is, he or she may react as if the partner has given up on them or abandoned them. This causes an exhausting cycle of overwhelm-and-withdraw.

If instead the troubled half is an introvert, he or she will naturally seek to withdraw and allow the experience to flow to its natural conclusion before taking any outward action (internal processing). This is a delicate time for the introvert, as he or she needs to feel the supportive love of community, but feels unable to reach out for help. If the introvert’s patience threshold is passed, he or she will reject the partner’s actions as unsupportive. If the extravert is unable to acknowledge this before reaching the threshold, he or she may react as if the partner has shunned or ignored their support. This causes a divergence where the extravert stops offering support.

We all shift in and out of introvert and extravert postures as we interact with the objects and people in the world. If we can navigate this landscape effectively, we can avoid overwhelming the introvert energy without ignoring the extravert energy. Next time you feel like you’re doing all the talking, ask if your partner needs a break. Similarly, next time you feel taxed, ask your partner for a break. This need not be considered a rift in the core of your spiritual relationship. It may simply be one half’s inability to communicate effectively with the other in the current moment. Give it time, communicate your feelings as you process, and come back to your partner to honor your original intent, which is to love and be loved.