Getting Through Bad Months

Getting Through Bad Months

Or weeks, or years, or whatever period of time is bad. Let’s get one thing out of the way right away. This post is about how I handle things and how I cope, I’m not going to sit here and pretend I know what works for you. Maybe you can identify with some of the methods and techniques I use or maybe they’ll be something that you’d find willing to try, but I’m no snake oil salesman, and I can’t promise these things will help you through. I just hope they will. I’d rather you never need to know how to get through tough times but, that’s just a fact of life.

Don’t Change Who You Are

It’s tempting, after you’re hurt or you go through a bad time, to discard everything associated with that memory even if they’re a critical part of who you are. A favorite song, a hobby, a core behavior, a belief system, an entire city, they’re all things people can ditch in an effort to quickly relieve themselves of reminders of bad times. I can’t deny that these things can seem to help in the short run but I don’t think they’re good long term. Throwing these things away just gives power and legitimacy to the people or things that hurt you. If I could draw a familiar parallel, it’s a lot like the security theater that comes after a horrific attack on innocent people. We tell ourselves that changing our behavior is how the terrorists really win, and then we go and radically change our behavior in an act to make us feel safer. For bonus points, the things we change don’t seem to make us any safer at all when push comes to shove. Changing who you are won’t stop the future bad times that you’re going to go through, that everyone goes through. Bad times are a fact of life, and changing yourself in a fruitless attempt to avoid them does nothing but give them power over your life. Security theater for the soul. There is one exception to this advice though. If you get hurt in the same ways over and over, and the hurt has something to do with a life goal, like holding a job, retaining friends, or building meaningful relationships, it’s definitely worth taking a look at yourself, and you should do so with a professional. The scope of this blog however, is for those unconnected bad moments that aren’t part of a larger pattern. Sometimes bad things just happen. This is about those times.

You’re Not Alone

While each individual’s suffering is unique, suffering itself is universal. Everyone goes through tough times, everyone suffers, but life goes on. That’s not to diminish your suffering, quite the opposite. Your suffering is meaningful, it may even redefine you going forward if it is profound enough, but if you let it keep you from moving, from going forward at all, you can make it worse for yourself. Like it or not, the Earth doesn’t stop spinning when you hit a rough patch and neglecting yourself and your commitments can make a bad situation much worse. You haven’t hit bottom yet, don’t aim for it. Someone, somewhere, even if it’s just the person in the mirror, is counting on you. Don’t let them down. Friends are good to have in times like this, good friends, the ones that don’t get upset when you have an emotional load you need help carrying. You’re about to find out who your real friends are, and which ones are fair weather. That’s useful knowledge to have. Just remember, being under the microscope is often the price you pay for this sort of help. Your real friends don’t like seeing these things happen to you just as much as you don’t, and they’re going to try and help you prevent repeating mistakes, and that might mean they have to know things. They might have to see you ugly cry into a beer, they might have to learn that you did something awful, or that you were the victim of something awful, and either of those things can be painful to share, or to see, but real friends will listen and help you through, now isn’t the time to push them away.

Avoid Isolating Yourself

This is related to the preceding paragraph, but it’s important enough to reiterate. Isolated people are vulnerable people. Now isn’t the time to shrink from your friends. You’re emotionally vulnerable, there are predators out there who will exploit that, try to make themselves out as your savior, make promises to provide whatever it is you think you need, and then trap you with it. Whether it’s rushing into a rebound, getting in with the wrong crowd, putting yourself in a dangerous situation, or ceasing to bring in income, real friends are going intervene when you’re being self-destructive. All predators, four legged, winged, or the worst of all, two legged, prefer isolated and weak prey. Don’t make yourself attractive to them.

Joy Is Contagious Too

One of the most common excuses I see for people withdrawing from their friends and family when things get tough is not wanting to be an emotional burden. Sorrow is contagious, and you don’t want to spread it. That’s a reasonable concern to have. Negativity actually is contagious. One couple divorcing often results in a rash of divorces throughout their social circles, but having a baby is contagious too, and that’s because Joy is also contagious. First of all, you’re not sparing your friends the story of your hardship by radically changing your behavior in a way that I guarantee you is going to alert your friends to something being wrong. Spare yourself the fantasy that by vanishing suddenly you can spare people some worry, that behavior is worrying in itself. Your friends and family however, will try to get you to have fun and get over it. Let them. Let them take you to a movie, to the beach, to your favorite bar or hangout. Joy is contagious too.

Book Review: Getting To Yes

Book Review: Getting To Yes

Boy has it been way too long since I’ve done one of these. Sorry about that! For whatever reason, over the last couple of months I’ve found it hard to read at all, much less get through material as certainly dry as self-help genre stuff. On that note Getting To Yes isn’t generally found in the self-help section, but rather the business section. If I could make a simple and critical point however, many things in our lives are negotiations and especially our relationships and even more especially when they go south. So I’m not just going to review this book, I’m going to give you some advice on how to use it. The latter half of that sentence may have tipped you off, this is going to be a positive recommendation.

“Facts, even if established, may do nothing to solve the problem”

If I could describe Getting To Yes in a nutshell it would be to compare it to a book I’ve reviewed previously, What Makes Love Last, by John Gottman. Basically, the material in Getting To Yes is called principled negotiation, and it’s the basis for the negotiation techniques Gottman encourages you to employ to repair and retain trust, Getting To Yes is however more comprehensive. To put it another way, What Makes Love Last could be considered the application of Getting To Yes as strictly applied to romantic relationships.

I’m being a little simplistic in that statement, which isn’t entirely fair to either book, but that’s a quick and comprehensive tl;dr for Getting To Yes. On that note, Getting To Yes is a far more comprehensive explanation of principled negotiation while managing to come in a smaller, more condensed and quicker to read package. Throughout this review, I have peppered memorable quotes from Getting To Yes that I thought would have been helpful to include in What Makes Love Last.

“Give them a stake in the outcome by making sure they participate in the process”

Now for the cover critique, or should I say cover appreciation. Since Getting To Yes isn’t strictly a self-help section book it mercifully comes with a cover that can actually be read in public without drawing attention to yourself. Bye bye lipstick red covers, suggestive fruit, and vulva purses. You could actually be forgiven for casually reading this in a coffee shop, or on a lunch break at work, physically, sans the protection of an e-reader and its coverless covertness. What a breath of fresh air that is.

“…some people begin by announcing that their position is an issue of principle and refuse even to consider the other side’s case. ‘It’s a matter of principle’ becomes a battle cry in a holy ware over ideology.”

The prose is deadpan, dry, but well written. It’s what you’d expect from a book focused on business deals and other similar negotiations but at the very least it’s not laborious to get through or especially hard to read. The book is small in physical dimension, and while 200 pages is already fast to get through, the fact that the pages are also small and the font is still large enough to comfortably read, and adding in some white space for the generously peppered formatting, reading Getting To Yes can be done in an afternoon easily. One of my metrics for scoring any self-help book is how quickly the contents can be digested and put to use, and Getting To Yes scores very high here.

Cost is another serious metric to consider. If a certain book is 40 bucks but there are two other books for fifteen each that cover the topic more helpfully and more completely I’ll generally give the nod to the two. It’s an opportunity cost to read a book, and combined with the length and difficulty of the read it can make one book not worth reading over two or even three others. Getting To Yes knocks this one out of the park as well, usually under 20 bucks, but at the time of writing, UNDER EIGHT on Amazon for the paperback.

“If you want the other side to accept a disagreeable conclusion, it is crucial that you involve them in the process of reaching that conclusion”

So that’s the short of it, and that’s why Getting To Yes comes with a quick and strong recommendation. There’s something else I’d like to talk about though, that really makes this book very useful for me, and highlighted by a recent catastrophic failure to use the techniques therein—though I am unsure if that would have effected the outcome of said event.

Here’s the thing. You don’t need advanced negotiating techniques about unimportant things. You don’t necessarily need to know the difference between positional and principled negotiation to win the battle of the pizza toppings. You may win more battles of pizza toppings with such techniques, but losing the pizza topping battle isn’t a hill many of us are willing to die on in the first place and I hope something many of us wouldn’t even consider ‘losing’.

When an argument gets serious, consequential, and important however it also tends to be emotionally charged, and like many of you, that emotional charge on its own may rid me of the use of my toolbox of knowledge. Stress physiologically takes us out of our executive function and puts us into more primitive modes of thinking. I’m the good guy, you’re the enemy, at least, that’s what the stress is making me think. If you’re the source of my stress you’re dealing with the same part of my brain that teaches me how to deal with a hungry lion. People vary in this response, some freeze, some flee, some fight. I fight. This gets us into a bit of a circular conundrum. If the best time to use this knowledge is the time I’m least able to access the areas of my brain that contain it, how is it useful?

I don’t have a specific answer for that, but I know that for someone as prone to emotional flooding as I am, I’m going to need some sort of technique, some trick, some device, that backs me out of flooding the moment I hit it, because anything less is too late. The other participant in the conversation willing, I can postpone or even stop needless suffering while I recompose and remember all this training I’ve put myself through. I don’t have that technique yet, and I’m going to have to practice it once I come up with one. My major point here is that simply knowing this stuff may not be sufficient for you to start employing it. I flood very quickly relatively to my circumstances. General levels of pre-exisitng stress will effect how quickly each of us emotionally floods compared to our normal rate. But if your rate is generally high like mine, neither What Makes Love Last or Getting To Yes is going to help you when you need it the most. Practice detecting flooding in yourself, and in others, and have others, and particularly those that care about you the most, practice detecting flooding in you. Build a safety net, and use it, and then by all means, leverage what you learn in Getting To Yes.

Card Night

Card Night

photo by: Sophie Elvis

Ah card night, we’re both still recovering from it. Once every few weekends or so we invite a couple of our friends over for adult fun and drinks. Usually the evening gets started early, the children are awake, and we start with something innocent like talking about bread baking, sculpting clay, various other hobbies, work, life in general. Sometimes we even perform these hobbies rather than talk about them—the most popular of which being the baking and the macarons in particular. After the kids shuffle to bed our friends break out their massive, complete, Cards Against Humanity collection, drinks are made, and we get down to it. This time we bit off more than we could chew, both celebrating St. Patrick’s day a little too hard and a little too early. But hey, it’s on a Sunday and I don’t get hangovers off, especially this upcoming week. It is crunch time.

So what’s the point of bringing all this up, why am I telling you all this? Well, for many of you this may be a familiar scene and for others not so much. The real point here is to highlight one of the ways we squeeze in some much needed adult time for a stay-at-home mother of three, who doesn’t get any days off unless I take some PTO. Today we’re switch hitting as we wait for the medicine to take the edge off our severe headaches and try to help each other stave off being overwhelmed by the boundless energy of our children. Emily doesn’t get a whole lot of time to have honest adult conversations with other adults. Her world is children, talking to children, teaching children, changing diapers, all that stuff. It’s such a relief and release for her to talk about something other than Mario, Mega Man, Legos, My Little Pony, family-portraits-as-spiders, mud cakes, an on it goes. Some of these things are genuinely cute, like the aforementioned way that our daughter draws us as a family of spiders, but engaging adult conversation they are not.

Emily likes talking about investment, property, dreams of a blueberry apiary, the coffee shop she’d like to start in the future, her quilting, her baking, her massive fantasy sex toy collection, all the things that help remind her that she exists beyond the identity of her motherhood. It’s not a situation that comes every day, as much as we’d like that to be the case. There’s other adult things that come first like the bills, scheduling contractors for that hurricane Michael damage that still isn’t quite done being fixed, tax returns, keeping tabs on the school, a bath, and those other random little adult emergencies that just never seem to stop. Staying on top of things.

That’s not to say I don’t get my fair share of the hectic household but I have this little trick see. I get to go to work. I get my fill of adults and adulting five days a week for between nine and ten hours. I help around the house whenever I can and with whatever I can—actually if I do it too much Emily gets a bit annoyed with me—but it doesn’t really bring Emily the adult interactions and the friend time she craves.

Card night is how we get a big dose of that adult time. Emily gets to stretch her legs and go beyond her motherhood. She gets to talk dirty, win at things, give me what’s coming to me, give as much as she gets, and just let loose for a little bit. During our normal day-to-day, Emily will sometimes exclaim, “I need an adult!”. On card night Emily gets to say, “I am an adult.”

Do you have a spouse that is starved for adult time? Are you that spouse? What is it that you do to get your time with friends and get time away from child duty?

That Time My Brother Hated My Wife

So this is a thing I don’t often speak of, but it’s pretty darn relevant to this blog. What do you do when a family member dislikes your spouse? Depends on what kind of family you have, ultimately. I consider what happened between my brother and I to be about as good as that could have gone. I don’t think there’s a method or trick or rule that’s going to solve this problem for everyone that experiences it so I’m just going to share the story as is and my feelings about it and let you make up your own mind from there.

James and I always had a very different experience with women as we grew up. I’m not sure if it’s because of luck or because he’s more attractive or because we were aiming different. Perhaps I was more naive. I was under the strong belief that it wasn’t worth wasting my time on temporary pair bonds. I was in it to get married and have children from the word go. There were girls I found highly attractive in middle school, but I didn’t want to be with them, there’s no way that was going to last. I kept that opinion until my Jr. year or so of high school. I started looking for mates, not girlfriends. Turns out that was a little early to get started too, at least with that stated goal. Looking back that seems obvious to me. James on the other hand was quite successful with the temporary pair bonding and didn’t seem to want for a longer term arrangement and especially not children.

James rarely approved of my girlfriends. The first was a strict, “you can do better” and he was right. In fact, those words ended that relationship. Actually at this point I feel I should point out that I’m not just the older of the two of us, I’m the eldest sibling. My brother’s opinions carry lots of weight, always have. Emily got a much better approval rating, which is to say that James didn’t voice disapproval until after the marriage. Here’s where things get interesting, and perhaps instructive. This story could end up being more useful to the people doing the disliking than the recipients.

The timelines on this are really fuzzy, so I’m going to try and just stick to the narrative order of events here. For instance, I can no longer remember if James first voiced his opinions before or after his nephew was born (One of the reasons for starting this blog was to get those things out before they were completely forgotten). I do however remember being physically in his presence when he broached the subject. He had lived out of town for a while at this point and was visiting for some reason. He waited until he was with me physically and we were alone to break it to me. That wasn’t too difficult, one of our favorite past times is taking long lonely walks together.

James told me that he was sure Emily was a good wife and didn’t mean to disparage our relationship—waiting until after the marriage was pretty good evidence of that I thought—but that he just couldn’t stand being around her and that he hated her. Hate has been a diluted word for some time and I knew at the time and from his tone of voice that what he really meant was strong dislike. He couldn’t stand her attitude and being around her was an exercise in restraint, which he demonstrated admirably.

I kinda felt sorry for James, not quite pity but sorry for him. I wasn’t angry, but I wanted him to like my wife. Who doesn’t want their brother to like their wife? Heck, who doesn’t want their friends to like their wife? I knew however, that the way he was telling me and the timing with which he broke it to me indicated that there wasn’t any use in trying to change his mind. Both of us obviously thought it was in everyone’s best interest not to relay that opinion to my wife, but that I should be mindful of it when arranging get-togethers and that sort of thing. For his part, James didn’t seem angry or resentful either, just solemn, almost like relaying a sad story from a newspaper. I’m not sure he knew what to do with those feelings. I was just going to give it time. I assured him sincerely that it wouldn’t affect our relationship.

That’s the thing about being brothers, we’re stuck with each other for a while. At least, we are in my family. Who else is going to keep you honest? Family has to be able to tell you things you don’t want to hear, it’s the test on whether you really care about someone. If you can’t disapprove of really bad decisions when it really matters, the way James did with my first shot at a relationship, when can you disapprove of them? Is your capacity to care about someone limited to brow beating them about how many calories are in that snickers bar or other social niceties? Well then you probably aren’t really looking out for them as well as you should, at least that’s how I view it. Actually yeah, a side bar on our particular family dynamic may be instructive here.

I’m well aware that not all families work that way, and I’ve noticed that the more broken a family is the more the individual members tend to subscribe to the idea that friends can be family. Stable and strong families like mine tend to subscribe to the blood is thicker than water mantra. I can’t say I’ve done any sort of study on that or anything, that’s just been my life experience. We do however have research on how real mom can make stepmom’s life hell just by existing. Worth thinking about. Seems a pretty obvious explanation to me really, absent a genuine family bond there’s no reason to value that relationship over a good friendship. I can guarantee you though, that families that get it right are experiencing a more powerful and more useful bond than any friendship could. I have plenty of both. Perhaps your family isn’t so close, you can break that cycle. Emily’s family has some problems, they backbite, have petty squabbles over inheritance, some even steal from the elders outright—I mean actual petit theft. These things are unheard of on my side. I told Emily that her family’s behavior ends with our home and our generation; she likes that idea.

My family is the only group of people I can count on to always have my best interests at heart whether they are praising me or knocking me down a few pegs because we’re stuck with each other until we die. That attitude tends to keep needless fights at bay and motives on the right course. They’re not going to spite me out of jealousy, but they can also be counted on not to be sycophants. There sure were fights though, not to get too deep into that but don’t think I’m trying to paint some idealistic picture of a family here. I’m just commenting on the nature of the bond itself. We have fights, and when we do it’s intense and bitter and feelings are really hurt. Those fights tend not to be needless and those criticisms almost always have truth buried in them, perhaps that makes them hurt more. The strength of those bonds let James and I keep our cool.

James didn’t disapprove of my relationship with Emily, he just couldn’t like her, but he could have disapproved, and I would have listened. That doesn’t mean I’d have left her, I didn’t drop my first girlfriend just like that, I gave that plenty of thought, but I’d question the motives of any non-family member for telling me such things out of the gate. I can count on my family to come from a position of looking out for me as their sincere motive. That means my spouse can be a source of disagreement between my brother and I without turning into a source of conflict. That’s why adding Emily to my family came with a ceremony and vows. Words of adoration and good sentiment aren’t good enough.

Patience ended up winning out and eventually James came to like Emily without any persuasion or brow beating from me. Time and exposure. He came to like certain qualities about her. Indeed, when James switched gears and started dating with marriage in mind he suddenly noticed qualities about Emily that lent themselves to such a relationship and was suddenly very appreciative of them. James simply couldn’t see them before because his goals were different. Ultimately, family thing aside, that’s why I was able to take his initial criticisms of Emily in stride. His outlook on relationships and their purpose was obviously different, and that was okay. He also didn’t turn his personal feelings in a mission to change me or Emily. He said his piece and left it alone.

Disagreements like this don’t always go so smoothly, but they can. Hope that’s helpful, or that you enjoyed the read at the very least.

Rule 4 and Social Media

Rule 4 and Social Media

I recently finished 12 Rules For Life – An Antidote to Chaos and reviewed it. Typical of all of my other book reviews, I don’t judge the content so much inside of the review of the book. I might as well be telling you how to think. My main concerns in book reviews are to determine whether or not the book is digestible and useful especially in the context of self-help. When I want to take some of the content and talk about it, i’ll branch that off into another blog, and that’s what we’re doing today.

When I first read rule 4 , which is…

“Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, do not compare yourself to who someone else is today.”

My first thought when I read that was about social media, which not only tricks people into breaking the rule but adds special little nasty tricks of its own. Our phones and other devices absorb us into a kabuki version of reality, where you only see the bright white mask that others want you to see. Everything else is blacked out and can’t be seen in the dim lighting of the theater. People chase likes, re-blogs, up-votes; our most popular social platforms are engineered to get the participants to seek validation from others.

Now I’m not saying these can’t be useful metrics for content creators. Sure, I take a look at where my likes and my follows sit, but I follow rule 4, I only compare those numbers to where they were when the blog started, or where they were a month ago. That was actually a foundational principle of managing this blog. I wouldn’t compare myself to people that already had 40,000 followers, I was concerned about just getting to 5. You’re not going to do yourself any services comparing yourself to pewdiepie the day your YouTube channel starts, but for many of us the comparisons run deeper and more insidious than just numbers of likes, follows, and shares. You compare your real life to the carefully curated profiles of family and friends or even strangers on social media. This is the real life only you know about, not just the darker moments but the darker thoughts. You’re not just violating rule four, you’re comparing yourself against people that don’t actually exist.

Social media profiles are the photoshopped versions of someones life—many times literally. Many highlight only the good and hide the bad. The ones that include the bad nevertheless hide the shameful. There’s a difference between announcing a breakup and announcing that it was your fault too. Generally, when people share bad moments on social media it’s for the same reason they share the good, for affirmation, and it comes with the same filters. Comparing yourself to these people, even people you trust, is like comparing yourself physically to some photoshopped super model on the cover of Sports Illustrated or Vogue or, well, pick your poison.

I can hear some of you now, “but people do compare themselves to supermodels”, I know, that’s the point, it’s ridiculous. If you need to work on your thighs work on your thighs but don’t do it to look like the digitally altered version of someone else. Do it because you want better thighs. That goes for non-physical qualities too. These people don’t have the same life you have. You know what’s important to you, to uniquely you, don’t suppress those priorities to be more like someone else, you’ll just end up not accomplishing the things that are important to you. That doesn’t mean you don’t stop improving, that doesn’t mean you don’t aim high, it means that you should be aiming at your own targets, and not someone else’s.

Maybe you decided not to go to college because starting a family was just that important to you. Maybe you have several wonderful children as a result, and maybe you’re a little jealous of that graduation cap toss picture your friend just posted. Maybe you aren’t seeing the pile of student loan debt behind that cap, maybe you aren’t seeing the adderall abuse that led there that has to be dealt with, maybe they’re absolutely fine and successful cleanly and didn’t fall into those traps, but they may just be looking at your children when they’re 35 and involved in their career and asking themselves where the time went and wondering why they don’t have theirs yet. Maybe they don’t want a family at all. Would that be the life you try to emulate after deciding you wanted several children? Maybe you come to feel sorry for them that they don’t even want a family, maybe that’s pitiable to you. Life is a series of choices. Make sure your choices reflect your goals, make sure the improvements you make to your life are about getting you to where you want to go.

You have things to work on. We all have things to work on. I could exercise more, but I’m better than I was yesterday. I’m 60 pounds better than I was many yesterdays ago, and I did that by comparing myself to what my scale said yesterday and not to someone else’s scale. I did that by ignoring my Fitbit’s explicit pleas to let it compare me to other people—Talk about kneecapping the usefulness of your own product. I celebrate the fact that i’m 60 pounds better off than I used to be, I still look forward to further improvements to my weight, I’m not where I want to be yet, but I can look back and go, yeah, I’m on the way there. I’m not looking at Lou Ferrigno pictures and going, why bother I’ll never be that guy. Well I really will never be that guy, and there are parts of Lou’s life that weren’t so great. I can be happy knowing that my life is getting better on my own terms, I can be happy that Emily finds me more physically desirable than she used to and that it’s the result of my work. Who doesn’t want to be more physically attractive to their spouse? Mission fucking accomplished man, and I get to make it even better in the future? Awesome.

That’s another reason for the rule. You will never exhaust all the avenues available to you to improve. You’re going to have to cherry pick, eventually you’re going to run out of time, everyone does. You can’t be everything to everyone, you can’t even be everything to yourself. Social media can tempt us with the idea that it’s possible. We have this flood of information about all the wonderful things other people are doing. Are you amalgamating all those things into an unreasonable ideal? Pick the things that matter in your life and orient your life and behavior around those, because you don’t get the option of everything, and if you see someone that looks like they’ve got everything I can guarantee you’re looking at a facade. You’re looking at their kabuki representation to the world. Rule 4 will help you stave off the resentment and jealousy that can trap you in the way that you currently are. You can use those emotions to freeze your life, sit still, and then blame others for the lack of improvement. No one is immune to that, I left Facebook entirely for that reason. My only twitter account is the one I use to promote this blog, I don’t use Insta, I don’t keep up with the Kardashians, and I don’t know anything about bad Tinder experiences. I also don’t seem to have problems with unstable relationships or keeping friends around for the long term. Are those related? Heck if I know but I certainly think they are.

Now, I think social media definitely makes these issues more prominent in our lives but this is by no means a new problem. The comic strip “Keeping up with the Joneses” debuted in 1913, over a century ago. The grass was greener on the other side of the fence long before we could use Google Earth to look at thousands of fences. Women were comparing themselves to cover girls since magazine covers were a thing. It’s a really old trap, maybe as old as humanity itself, maybe as old as lobsters, who knows. The Bible is thousands of years old and warns us not to covet all manners of things, especially other people’s wives. That has everything to do with wanting what others have, or at least fooling ourselves into thinking that we do. Problem is we have easy access to pictures of other people’s wives, we have easy access to depictions of all the greatest parts of other people’s lives, it’s everywhere, and they have complete control over whether or not we see the other side of that, and the vast majority of us chose not to. Don’t think of someone’s social media life as anything other than a fiction, a photoshop filter at best. Remember rule 4.

Book Review – 12 Rules For Life, An Antidote to Chaos

Book Review – 12 Rules For Life, An Antidote to Chaos

I’ve been looking forward to picking up 12 Rules For Life for a while now. I’ve enjoyed Jordan Peterson’s online lecture series off and on for a few years in distracted moments that needed a bit more productivity than gazing at the outdated popcorn ceiling or watching things explode on YouTube. After I started this blog 12 Rules moved up in importance on my reading list but stayed behind books that seemed to be more about addressing direct problems to relationships and marriages that were in trouble and needed immediate fixing. Those books just seemed to fit the mission of the blog better though I had a feeling 12 Rules could potentially be just as efficant in the long term. 12 Rules surprised me in some ways, conformed to my expectations in others, and disappointed me in ways I should have predicted. So let’s dive in.

One axis I use when recommending a book in the self-help space is the opportunity cost for reading it. There are other books you can read, they might apply to your situation more directly, or you may be able to grab 2 helpful books for the price of a different singular one. This is where books that are more comprehensive, like say Marriage, A History run afoul a hesitation to recommend simply based on the fact that you could get two points of view from potentially two different but related subjects for the price of the one deep dive in both time and cost. Being too short and lacking comprehensive qualities is bad, but being too long and failing to get to the point is equally as bad—I’m giving you an example of this right now. 12 Rules seems to ride the line here for me. It’s inexpensive, no issues there, you can currently pick up the hard cover—my preference—on Amazon for like 17 bucks (or is that buckos). The length however is a bit of a double edged sword. It’s not that 12 Rules is entirely too long, the meat of the book is approximately 350 pages and I was able to clear that in a day. Much like Marriage, A History my reading speed was slowed by the fact that many of the sentences weren’t exactly skip-able, skimming is a bad idea with 12 Rules. But I felt like each rule took too long to get to the point, and let me explain that a little bit, because that’s really worth a breakdown.

One, there’s a bias alert here. If you watch the bulk of Peterson’s online lectures like I have a ton of the material in this book is remedial. Secondly, I think Peterson made the right choice in the persuasion tactic. Sure, you could arrive at the points a lot more quickly with a few short facts, but then why have the book at all? 12 Rules could be a Buzzfeed style list article if you weren’t going to take the task of expressing the very real-life, highly emotional and devastating consequences of breaking the rules. The intent here doesn’t seem to be giving you a list of guidelines, it’s a list of rules and that takes a little extra convincing. Rightly so! if you just willy nilly accepted the rules because they were in a book you’d be just the kind of non-existent doormat of a person Peterson is warning you against being in the first place! There’s also the point that I was reading the book front cover to back cover with no priority to the order of consumption. I did not skip rules I was already following and I didn’t skip ahead to rules I found more intriguing. That’s probably actually how this book is supposed to be used, but for the sake of the review I read it cover to cover and that may have not been the best way to enjoy it.

Here’s what I did enjoy. A lot of these rules have immediate application. If there are any parents here I highly recommend picking up this entire book just for Rules 5 and 11. If you argue a lot with your spouse or friends a lot you’re gonna wan’t to read 8, 9, and 10 first. I don’t think there are many people around who don’t need to read rule 3 every now and again.

The prose is easy to read, and while Jordan Peterson takes himself seriously he doesn’t take himself too seriously, though his writing voice isn’t nearly as fun as his lecture voice. They’re similar but it’s just not the same when you can’t get the inflections. Peterson’s skills at oration are just flat out superior. Peterson also makes sure to assure the reader he isn’t speaking from some high-horse position either and I found that quite nice. As he says in one of his lectures…

“I’m full of snakes and so are you…”

So what’s the conclusion here. Ultimately when I sit down and I review one of these the central question I ask myself before all others is “Can this book help you”? As with most good self-help books, the answer is, if you let it. Peterson’s book however deserves a special call out here. It’s tough love, love, but tough love. If you want help from this book you will get it, but you have to want to let it help you, I’d say more than other books I’ve reviewed here. Given that prior, I think it’s as close a thing as you’ll get to a “Classic” in the self-help genre and you can’t beat the price right now. Get 12 Rules, and get it in hard cover, have your children read it when they’re old enough. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

When Facts Don’t Matter – How Trust Shapes Reality

When Facts Don’t Matter – How Trust Shapes Reality

One of the pleasures of reading John Gottman’s book What Makes Love Last was how it gave articulation and voice to an idea I had been holding onto for a while about trust, and that idea was when it comes to getting into an argument with your significant other or really anyone else is that the amount that the facts of the situation matter is entirely dependent on how much trust there is between the two of you and the severity of the situation.

Of course this idea has functional limits. If your wife walks in on you ankle deep in another woman all the trust in the world isn’t going to undo the facts of what she saw. But trust has a lot to do with other less extreme situations, like not being where you said you were going to be. However, I find that the extreme situations are where it’s easiest to illustrate this whole trust as reality idea. Suppose you’re just sitting there minding your own business in your bedroom with your spouse. Some wrong number text comes your way telling you what an awesome time someone had sleeping with you last night. Now suppose your wife was quick enough to read the push notification. Has your behavior with other women in the past been virtuous enough that she’ll believe it was a wrong number? And further more has she had enough trust in you to begin with to establish that pattern of behavior?

That last idea is kind of critical and I want to expand on that one a bit more because part of the exercise of being in a relationship is that you have to trust the other person in it enough that they’re in a position to hurt you and let them prove themselves or fail you, either way. Let’s say your wife in the example above never even lets you be around other women as a rule. Well how in that situation are you even supposed to build the trust in the first place that you can use it to soothe her into the reality that it really was a wrong number? Well you can’t because she hasn’t let you, and so in this example the reality doesn’t even matter. Low trust begets low trust because it turns innocent pieces of reality into guilty verdicts. It’s a negative spiral that you can subject yourself to accidentally by allowing your low initial trust to prevent the behaviors that are necessary to build it up in the first place.

The digital era can really highlight this phenomenon in some really nasty ways that I think a lot of us have experienced. If you’ve ever had someone take something in your text history out of context to beat you over the head with it in a way that makes no sense you’ve been there. If you’ve tried to prove your innocence with exculpatory evidence from the same and have found it lacking the efficacy it ought to have had you’ve experienced this too. You may have even done this to someone in the past and not realized what you had done until it was too late.

I can’t really tell you how to avoid having this done to you by someone else, you can’t control other people so much. The only thing I can really tell you about what to do with other people is to exhibit behavior that builds trust and to demand the freedom required to establish those behaviors. When it comes to doing this to other people though I think I have a little bit more useful advice. Don’t get attached to what you think the facts are when you feel you’re owed an apology or recompense. Fundamentally it’s not the facts you are interested in anyway, it’s the recompense, you’re just using what you believe are the facts to extract that because you think the situation is a bit more rational than it actually is. The problem is when you tie these two things together and someone gives you evidence that you’ve been mistaken then you would also have to admit that you aren’t owed the apology, but you feel that you are! So what you’ll do is perform these fantastic denials of reality and really distrustful and manipulative things to maintain this narrative in order to get this apology or change in behavior you want. You’ll move goal posts and gish gallop and all sorts of abusive behaviors to keep this false narrative going because you’ve linked it so tightly with your need for your feelings to be acknowledged.

Now I’m not talking about ignoring things like I talked about in the beginning. Don’t allow someone balls deep in another woman to gaslight their way out of it, that’s dumb. But for other things what you should do is ask yourself if you trust this person, and if you think they care about you, and if that answer is yes all you have to do is let them explain their actions and deal with the reality of them, and it’s okay to still want an apology even if they’ve done something reasonable. Sometimes reasonable things hurt, like when people put their own well being before yours. Don’t get it all mixed up in some accusatory fantasy you created to extract a guilty plea. No one has to be guilty of a moral wrong to hurt your feelings. Furthermore making someone apologize for something they didn’t feel they did is abusive and if they’re willing to be insincere because of your badgering you’ve damaged the relationship to begin with. On the other side of that coin if you really care for somebody and their feelings were hurt by a reasonable thing you did acknowledge their feelings and you’ll find you can both move on a lot more quickly. Don’t let someone extract an apology out of you for something you didn’t do either, for the reasons mentioned above, that’s abuse, and if you find that you’ve done that to someone and you care about them you’ve got a lot of repair work to do.

Anyway, I hope that’s given you some insight in why you shouldn’t get too caught up in the ‘truth’ of a situation when dealing with it in an argument, whether your the accuser or the accused.

Have a comment or a question? Is there a topic you’d like discussed? Let me know through my contact page.

Surround Yourself With Support

Communication is a big part of all relationships. I’m sure no matter how much we agree with that statement that we’re all about tired of hearing it. Let me take this one on from a different angle however. Lets talk about how your relationship is communicated with your social networks both real and imagined.

In general, people are social creatures. Being social serves several important functions in helping us make decisions in our lives and our romantic relationships are no different. People take for granted how much influence comes from our social circles however. Many of us like to assume we’re a little above being influenced so trivially. We aren’t above it, and it isn’t trivial.

I hope you never have to see this in person, but given the divorce rates not only in the United States but around the globe I have a feeling you will or have. Someone in your circle of friends gets divorced, then as if dominoes were being knocked over, more of them split. It can feel like your world is coming apart as your entire social network self-destructs, begging you and your spouse to pick sides, trying to turn each of you against old friends. Divorced friends may even try to convince you that you should leave your partner too and it’s not unheard of that the newly lonely divorcee, disenfranchised with the ‘sanctity’ of marriage, may try to poach yours. More than mere coincidence or happenstance, this domino effect is part of a social phenomenon called social contagion. There’s a fascinating new piece of research on divorce as a social contagion that Pew Research has been kind enough to summarize.

In short, all sorts of behaviors spread through social circles by proximity, both positive and negative. Yes, your siblings really do mimic you and have their own kids after you do—or perhaps you were the copy cat. Even obesity seems to spread socially. The effect is huge. Close friends of a divorcee are 75% more likely to divorce themselves and being a friend of a friend comes with a 33% increase in the likelihood of divorce. With first-time marriages already flirting with a 50% divorce rate you are looking at dire numbers indeed if your inner circle goes south. The suspected reasons are many and I suggest reading the Pew article linked above if you are curious.

It’s important to regularly take stock of your social situation and be aware of it. My own father was affected by toxic co-workers and a good dose of stress led to him levying an outrageous charge of lesbian infidelity against my mother. Their marriage survived that, but it’s an example of how our social circles can get us to do crazy and irrational things. So make sure that you are surrounding yourself with good people, and those relationships do not go bad. Don’t let your friends do things that inject unwanted negativity into your relationship. Good friends will stop negative behaviors when asked. Make sure you aren’t prompting this from them, friends like to echo the sentiments of their friends and if you are complaining about your partner you may be signaling them to echo those complaints and validate them. Don’t invite people you hardly know to your social media. Regularly cull negative or absent influences from social media too. Strive to be a positive influence, since that’s also contagious, you could be helping keep your friendships healthy by stopping them from going negative. You can follow my example and get rid of your personal social media all together, it’s good for you. For those of us that can’t abandon social media, for instance your social media accounts are part of your work as well, keep in mind that these social circles affect you just much as real relationships do and curate them accordingly.

I find that my close relationships outside of my marriage are not outside my marriage at all. All marriages hit stress points and everyone gets stressed. It can damage your relationship to constantly be complaining about your job or some other source of negativity in your life. Many times it’s beneficial for the both of you not to know absolutely everything that goes on in your day to day grinds. You can direct these energies at your close friends, especially at those who share similar frustrations. In my case, it’s better to direct my frustrations inside of the IT world to my IT buddies rather than at my spouse. Not only would I be directing negativity at her that she can hardly process, but a lot of what I’d complain to her about wouldn’t even make sense due to all the vague jargon and specialized language. She’d be doubly frustrated that she could hardly make sense of what I was saying, much less empathize with it and perhaps tell me I was being whiny or affirm my feelings and say ‘yeah that really does suck’ the way my colleagues can. That doesn’t even cover when the source of the frustration is our spouse themselves.

When our spouse is the source of our frustration a positive and supportive network of friends can be there to call us out when we’re wrong, help us to resolve things when we have legitimate grievances, and help us to just vent and dispose of the small frustrations that come with marriage and child rearing. They can respond with positive stories about their relationship and how they got through similar troubles, show us that these things really aren’t so bad, or point out that other stresses may be making mountains out of molehills. We can similarly be these positive reflectors for our close friends and together in that network, curating these friendships and investing in them, we can distribute the load and diminish negativity. Having a more open dialogue with your friends about your relationship and about relationships in general will help them perform this task and vice versa. If you’re a more private person or couple this can still work but you have to take extra care to reach out when you need to. Your friends likely know your privacy preferences and are less likely to speak up when they observe something troubling or even when they’re prompted for feedback.

Friends can help us with more tangible annoyances in our relationships. Trusted friends can help give us nights away from the kids. It doesn’t matter how good you are at slipping some romance in on the sly, knowing for a fact that you have a few hours or even a whole evening to yourself is freeing. You can take your time, you can be loud, you can make romantic plans that the chaos of kids would likely derail. You can break out the fancy china and candles, you can pay enough attention to home cook a meal. You can steal away to your favorite restaurant or go to that bar you haven’t been able to venture to in ages. Duck into that adult store you can never visit anymore. Heck, go see your other friends. Repay these favors in kind when your friends have children too. Sleepovers and child-swaps can take 2 couples that can’t get time to themselves and let them breathe again. Let me tell you from experience that between two adults there’s not much difference between watching 2 kids and watching 5, but the difference between watching even 1 child and zero children is a world of difference. Alternate weekends, come up with a plan, you can give yourself and your friends alone time you’d not get at all otherwise. 

Sometimes conversations with our friends can be awkward. We can take steps to create environments where more open conversations are easier. Having a game night or other regular social gathering between friends can help us create an environment where we regularly and comfortably express things we might not say on the street. Emily and I love using Cards Against Humanity for this purpose, as it breaks the ice in ways that frequently lead to questions about sensitive topics in a comfortable environment. Whatever you do, make sure it fits you and your friendships. Notice that social media friends don’t help when we need to meet someone in person. The lack of physical availability can hinder our social media relationships and the steps we take to keep them healthy—one of the reasons I encourage avoiding them. Use social media to keep in touch with the people you actually know. A social media friend thousands of miles away isn’t going to help you with that emergency eviction or having both your cars break down at the same time.

a barn raising
Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

We can also get closer to our friends by supporting each other during ‘barn raising moments’. Friends can team up and share expertise which strengthens bonds through inter-dependency. Share your housekeeping skills, your automotive skills, your technology talents, the list goes on. Inconvenience yourself for your friends and watch for reciprocation; let your friends know that’s part of the deal. As you deepen bonds with friends you can get more comfortable saying no to each other, and saying how you actually feel. Your friendships will be based on more than just being nice to each other and will survive disagreements. Pay attention to friends’ bids for help and answer them as much as is reasonable—just keep an eye on whether that’s getting one sided.

A strong network of friends is important for getting into a good relationship too. Introductions through friends is still the number one way couples meet as of the last HCMST (How Couples Meet and Stay Together) survey. While online couplings are catching up, the study also shows that people with a wide network of friends benefit the least from online interaction. New results are due soon and I’m really curious how those trends will continue. Take a look.

We’ve all seen the stereotype, a person gets married and all their time for friends goes away. If this is you, cut it out. If your partner is doing this to you, it’s a sign you may not be the best match. Cutting people off from their support networks is one of the first stages of relationship abuse. Make sure you aren’t doing this to yourself as well, you could be inadvertently creating negative feelings towards your SO in your social circles, and that’s not something that typically goes well.

Photo by Steve Long on Unsplash

If you end up the victim of relationship abuse a strong network of friends can help you escape(Good friends will rarely let you get into that situation in the first place, but things happen). Never let your SO demand you cut yourself off from your support networks—that’s a red flag. Make sure you maintain friendships that are more than superficial. Do not be ashamed to ask for help and tell the situation like it is, it may save your life. Good close friendships are safe harbors in even the worst storms.

So don’t think of a close circle of friends as something that has to fall by the wayside when you start getting serious in a relationship, instead recognize that a close circle of friends is your best chance of beating the odds and staying in a long committed relationship together. Keep your friendships healthy, keep your marriage healthy.

Have a comment or a question? Is there a topic you’d like discussed? Let me know through my contact page.