I saw a young man the other day eating at a restaurant. If I were his boss, although I wouldn’t fire him, I would definitely categorize him as “not” an up-and-comer. It was an embarrassing display of lack of self awareness. He was hunched over his food with the worst table presence I’ve seen in years. It was like he had only enough energy to stagger to his meal before he expired. Does posture matter? Do table manners matter? Being concerned as to what message is received by the world, is that selling out? Yes, yes, and no.
Is there any debate on the obvious that we humans live in a community of other humans who form opinions, not necessarily as condemnatory judgments, but in the normal course of self-navigation? For example, I am continuing to evolve, grow, form more mature opinions by revising old loosely held thoughts. I do this because that’s the way of it, being human. But also because I actively want to navigate my world for my life’s betterment. We judge the world on a subjective scale between beneficial through benign to detrimental. So I would “judge” a hard working young man at a bank as a potential employee differently than a tattooed man standing next to my car swinging a chain. Ok, that’s obvious. If I were to coincidentally interview them the following week, I’d recognize the bank employee as a positive and the apparent hooligan as a negative. But would I have needed to have seen them prior, out of context, to make that judgment?
No. And this is where the young can miss the point. The energetic hard worker that is self aware enough to project growing competence is more easily able to make that sale than the guy who tries to turn it on and off in his life. I am warming up to people having tattoos, but not much; I am not warming up to smoking. A slouch, literally and figuratively, doesn’t have the practice of a firm handshake, eye contact, clear voice, measured responses, and positive posture. It takes practice to coordinate those things so that they’re natural and not forced. It takes a whole lotta practice to listen all the way through something and then respond versus stop listening half way through so as to formulate a response. It takes practice to write an email that gets to the point. It takes practice to do well in the adult world. Continuous practice.
So if there’s an attitude issue: “Hey man, I’m good. I don’t need your approval”; or, “Duuuude”; or, and most likely, “Those things are not as important as my actual work ethic”. Yes, that last thought may be true, and this was one of my immature beliefs back in the day, but that misses the point. You won’t get the chance to prove your value at the next level if you don’t consider the whole package. Whether that value is the opening level of getting the job or the next level of promotion. Closed doors are silent data points. Value does matter more than appearances, but your personal projection is inherently tied into your perceived value.
This young man at the restaurant wasn’t practicing. No doubt nagged by his mom and dad to sit up straight, his post-adolescent thought was “I own my freedom”. True. But freedom is not without consequences. His freedom mindset cannot appreciate the accumulated opportunity costs inherent in bad posture. You can’t just fix that. It takes practice to be self aware enough to sit up straight and not act like an adolescent. What if that young man doesn’t want what I value. Instead what if he is a brilliant tattooed smoking programmer that can get a high paying job anywhere and flip the bird to my values. Fair enough. But all choices have short and long term consequences. Over the last 10,000 years, all societies have fine tuned the cause and effect on the subject of “fitting in”. And so I assert, it is mostly a matter of maturing awareness rather than a disagreement on values.
The reason you need an Ironmen group is to develop a forum where you can get honest feedback on what you’re projecting. Everyone has a “feel” to them, an incalculable amount of data that is summarized as such. What are you projecting?
To clearing the mirror,
This 4-part writing riff started with a conversation I had with a guy who had divorced his wife, which, I surmised, was due to his inability to navigate the dynamic between he and his wife so that both of their cups were filled. In his immaturity, he didn’t see a path forward to get his cup filled, so he ended the marriage. I believe, with no data to support my belief, that this is the underlying dynamic inherent in a large number of divorces. Immaturity, lack of vision, inability to get to a “I pour/you pour” relationship, calcified frustration, seeming insurmountable barrier to happiness, loss of hope, maybe bad behavior, divorce.
What is divorce really? When does divorce occur in the above sequence? Divorce occurs at the point when the flicker of hope for happiness has gone out. In the above guy’s scenario, he concluded in our conversation that it was his immaturity, lack of vision on how to get where he wanted to go, that led to the premature conclusion to pull the plug on his marriage. He lost hope that he could get his cup filled. Doesn’t that seem like it would be a common enough conclusion in a young man’s thinking?
Of course I’m not just talking about sex as the only thing a man needs to fill his cup. It is love he needs in the way he needs it, sex being just one way. I get my cup filled when Lis compliments me on these letters. I completely take notice when she comes alongside me and rubs my shoulders for no other reason than to just touch me. My cup is filled when I can see her respect and admiration of all my efforts and of who I am. Those actions on her part are among the multitude of nuances of our intimate relationship. Having a level 9/10 marriage frees up your energy away from frustration and allows you to grow elsewhere.
“That’s swell Dave on how awesome your marriage is, but you don’t understand. My wife is…” sick, injured, dealing with being abused, a shrew, cold, comes from a dysfunctional family, hormonally frigid, won’t engage with me, or some such thing.
Divorce occurs when hope dies. You can even stay legally married, but only be roommates, economic partners. Marriage is a spiritual endeavor. Each person seeks wholeness through relationship with the central hope that there is growth, progress. There is a reason why people who attend church tend to stay married more than those that don’t. By adding the notion that God exists and that difficulty is a part of life for spiritual reasons (James 1), then perseverance is a part of marriage. The mature quality of perseverance keeps hope aflame because of the imbedded assumption that there’s benefit awaiting on the other side of conflict.
Lis broke her back when we were 34. For 7 years we struggled with that issue. Our marriage wasn’t mutually satisfying, to say the least, because of her constant battle with pain. After dealing with the kids all day, there wasn’t much in her cup to pour out for me. I did contemplate the loss of hope at one point. And yet, and yet!, there was for us a belief that this issue was designed by God for our betterment. And so it was.
If your flame is flickering, it’s likely, so is your wife’s.
Loss of hope leads to spiritual divorce that oftentimes leads to legal divorce. The hope of what? More sex? On the younger side of maturity, it may look like that. But no. What the loss of hope really signifies is the loss of shared intimacy where both people care to balance the needs of the other by pouring out. It’s the complex intertwining of two lives in experiences, loves, energies, capacities, needs, priorities, and relationship.
God is a good marketer. Just like any good Madison Avenue marketing guru, he uses sex to draw you into a more complex transaction. If your marriage is a 7, then I would imagine you’re on your way to a 10. If it’s a 5, take hope, you’re on the front side of opportunity.
To your flame.
When a couple is getting ready for bed and it’s been a handful of days since last being together, the guy is in play. Of that, there is no doubt. What is a question, however, is whether it’s going to happen or not because the woman, unquestionably, has the final say. He’s looking for the subtle winks and nods that would indicate that tonight’s the night. When she’s lying there, after the rubbing encouragement has begun, she bestows her verdict on sex, “Sorry, not tonight.” At that point, the guy’s chest goes tight, his anger swells, and the recurring argument ensues.
Maybe I alone in the universe have experienced this scenario. It is easy, and would be unwise and incorrect, to conclude that she is in the wrong here, that she is wielding her choice as some sort of manipulative power play. No, she is being honest. Honesty being a desirable virtue when it works in his favor can’t be deemed verboten when it doesn’t. No, the honesty she is displaying is that the stars are not aligned in her world to come regularly and fully to the marital bed. And if that is a high priority, then it’s up to the man to figure out how to line the stars up.
Yet, there is no reason for there to be a question about whether sex is going to happen or not that night. There’s absolutely no reason for something so foundationally important as sexual intimacy to come down to the last second. To do so only sets up extreme disappointment and frustration if it’s not going to happen. So, 2 things should happen to avoid this kind of confrontation.
Sex should be scheduled regularly. There should be a discussion about sex. This can be uncomfortable, so it can be taken over many encounters. But eventually, among the many potential discoveries in this long conversation, an agreement on frequency should emerge. “Sunday nights – No, because I work out on Monday mornings; so Monday nights – yes. Wednesday nights – yes, unless we have group night, then it would be Thursday night. And then either Friday night or Saturday night depending.” This plan equates to about 10-12 nights per month. This agreement sets up expectations that are reasonable.
The 2nd thing that should happen is that if something changes, then as soon as it’s known that the regularly agreed upon schedule isn’t going to happen, then communication immediately should occur. It takes time for a guy to adjust. Post dinner, she assesses and decides that tonight’s not going to happen for 1 of a dozen reasons given her day. She should let him know asap. Not postponing that key little bit of info will help him adjust over the next few hours. Since a guy’s been thinking about it 2-3 times per hour since breakfast, his energy momentum needs a head’s up. And you know the inevitable “why” is going to come up, so she should provide her reasons and he should accept them as such. Arguing is pointless and overcoming argument is the whole point of this discussion. Then the next reasonable request will arise, “How about the alternative?”
You see, a guy prefers the fulsome embrace of love. However, he will accept accommodation if that’s available. And, barring that too, he’ll take the next best thing with her just providing pleasurable release. As relationships evolve, as communication improves, as each looks to fill the other’s cup, then the above fallback of expectations is reasonable. And if the above sequence does not occur? If the situation unfolds where he thinks they’re going to be together and she informs him that it’s not going to happen, so he suggests an alternative, and she says nuh-uh. Then something’s amiss. Her cup doesn’t have in it what he wants poured out. This little bit of data certainly will be a catalyst for conversation. And if the next opportunity on the agreed upon schedule is fulfilled, then the missed day is a one-off. That’s commonplace. However, if after a couple of months where the agreement was 10-12 days and it’s been more like 5-6, then reality is misaligned to the agreed upon expectations. Then the opportunity to go deeper into one another’s intimate psyche is presented. God has presented this format for you to learn yourself, to learn her, to learn what it takes for a couple to couple, to learn how marriages grow stronger through communication and safety, to learn how to manage your own emotions and seek higher ground, to learn how to pour out for the sheer pleasure of filling her cup and watching over time how she unfolds her well-being to you, and to watching your children thrive living under the roof of intimate happiness. Yes, improving sexual intimacy can do all that.
But there’s more.
To your harmonious path,
I received a bit of feedback on my Letter, Sex and Divorce. The essence was that the state of sexual harmony was a long-term concern. To that end, let me continue into the discussion with thoughts on how to develop the relationship away from the chasm that leads to divorce.
The stereotype is justified – Men have a fundamental requirement of sexual intimacy. It’s not just a desire, it’s a requirement. What gets lost with the early marital conflict is the reasonableness yet unending aspect of this requirement. Let me assert that it is reasonable to have sex 10-12 times per month and adventurous sex 1-2 times per month. This perspective of reasonableness does little to help the situation if a man is unable to articulate a harmonious vision of mutuality and can only express the desire for more sex. Merely quoting my assertion of reasonableness will do you no good.
A harmonious path must be the mindset – which means a man must have a vision of what harmony looks like for both participants, a commitment to the relationship, an openness toward understanding her needs and perspectives, yet maintain the resolve towards that vision in the face of conflict, and a willingness to make compromises along the way.
Let’s start with understanding. Below is not a comprehensive view towards a woman’s sexuality. It’s generic at best. A woman might not feel “sexual” for large portions of the month due to hormones. She might not think a sexual thought for days and days and not realize that a man might not think a sexual thought for dozens of seconds at a time. She might have been abused or been in a situation that made a deeply negative impression on her about men. That’s not something you just get over, rub some dirt on it. She may have negative thoughts about having to compete against a porn star’s body and aggressive style. She may not prefer the smell or the mess. A woman doesn’t turn on the juice like a man can. Her daily schedule of kids and work, meal prep and chores, may leave her empty of amorous energy. It may be as simple as having eaten too much dinner. Where a man is like a microwave, a woman is like a crockpot. Where she must get her ducks in a row in order to have meaningful sex, a man can have sex and in doing so gets his ducks in a row.
All the above leads to the understanding that sex is highly psychological, more so than a man’s. This idea that a woman can bring herself to the marital bed regularly and fully if something is amiss in her life is naïve at best. Here’s where a man must recognize that when there’s marital conflict around the quantity of making love and the quality of the engagement, the gap of perspectives is not permanent but a God intended opportunity to create intimacy. And because the man is the one that wants change, he must take responsibility to evolve things to bring about harmonious and therefore permanent change.
For example, when a man touches a woman, it sends a message. Does it send “I love you” or “I desire you”? Certainly, those ideas are correlated, desire and love, but a woman can feel objectified. If every time you touch her and it sends a sex message, then a woman man come to feel that that’s all you want her for. Now, if it’s been 4 days, then her perception may be largely accurate. But if sex were more regular, then you could normalize a loving touch without sexual intent. Or if touch were more normalized, then you might be able to have sex more regularly. Conflict starts in small ways and calcifies through miscommunication and frustration. If by your very act of expressing love she misinterprets it as your selfish need to get physical release, then it’s up to you to deal with her whole set of needs.
What are her needs that will lead to her feeling whole so that she can meet you along the harmonious path? First, you need to understand that there is a difference between intellectual understanding and visceral psychological understanding. You can’t just express yourself, have her understand, then expect that things will be immediately and permanently different. It doesn’t work that way. Verbal I love you’s and physical I love you’s don’t get you that far if she wants non-sexual quality time, some acts of service, and overall engagement. For example, if on the nights you don’t make love you get in bed while she’s brushing her hair and are snoring away by the time she gets to bed; whereas on sex nights you’re wide awake, then that sends the message bedtime isn’t about intimacy. Same subtle message on sex nights that after sex while she’s cleaning up, you turn over and are sound asleep when she returns – What’s the message? If giving her a bedtime back rub is only a ruse to explore her body, then touch is a taking and not a giving. If doing the dishes and cleaning up is considered by you to be foreplay and you expect a quid pro quo once the kids are in bed, then you’re sending the message that you don’t care about the house as much as she does. These messages are received – she is an object for your desire not an object of your desire.
What does she want? She wants to be safe. She wants to know that you want her, not just her body. She wants you to care about her desires and are willing to respect the fact that her rhythms are delicate, that she can be delicate. She wants you to lead in many ways. She wants you to figure her out, help her navigate life’s difficulties, and create an environment where her loving efforts are rewarded. If you do these things, you will get your harmonious sex life.
There’s more to this topic. Ha, yeah, there’s more. But we’ll have to take it next time.
To your fulfilled harmonious path,
I was talking with a guy this week who was trying to capture me as a financial planning client while I was trying to capture him as a referral source for loans. Nice guy, good looking, athletic, about 47 years old. Our conversation went the normal route of set-up niceties before getting down to business – two boys in their teens, divorced for 13 years, career journey through various paths, landed in his current gig half a dozen years ago and is now settled and happy. Not remarried. In the 90 minutes we spent together his married life came up again. He divorced her. She wasn’t equally yoked to him spiritually and as we got down to it, didn’t fill his emotional cup by speaking his love language.
Hmm. Nice guy. Smart. Good looking and I would guess good-looking former wife who by any reasonable guess was normal and enjoyable. Divorced. Back 13 years ago, he had concluded in his 34 year old mind that his frustrations with her were irreconcilable and the path would be better for himself and his boys to call it quits. So I asked him, “In your maturity now with your current understanding of love languages (he took a seminar), your current ability to identify and articulate your feelings, and your knowledge of the last 13 years, do you think you could have navigated your difficulties back then?” He looked taken aback, looked down and said, “Absolutely”.
Every marriage has difficulties. It’s clear that the life God has created for mankind requires mental, emotional, and relational challenges if we are to become the individuals of our potential. The experience of conflict doesn’t feel so good, but the result on the other side of reconciliation is hugely beneficial. “Hey that wasn’t fun. What do we need to do to avoid feeling that way again?” In the above guy’s scenario, he was not able to avoid ‘feeling that way again’ as his marriage revisited their difficulty over and over again until the frustrations calcified into seemingly unbreakable patterns.
Here’s what I think occurred based on my hearing of his story. In effect, “Hey hon, can we be together tonight?” In effect, “No”. What she hears, “Hey, can I use your body for my physical release?” What he hears, “I don’t love you.” The ideal result of conflict resolution is to mature spiritually. What I mean by that is your marriage relationship is not just a series of transactions: I make the money; you clean the house. I cook the dinner; you mow the lawn. I manage the finances; you present your body when I need it. Marriage certainly has trades that are conveniences and efficiencies, sure, but at the core of marriage is the continuous opportunity to reconcile perspective differences and lift “we” over asserting “self”. Just because you get married, doesn’t mean you become a “we”, clearly. It takes lots of time, discussion, conflict, new situations, freedom, responsibility, and conflict. And working through that has benefits in relational cohesion, trust, and intimacy – aka spiritual maturity (even more so when God is intentionally invoked).
My understanding of this guy is superficial. But he agreed that his divorce was due to immaturity on his part. He didn’t say that, but that’s what I took away. Marital conflict is when through the transactions of life one or both people come away unfulfilled. Resolution comes when a reasonable understanding occurs and a path around the difficulty is navigated. That’s why sex, or lack of sex, is so challenging. A woman’s mind/body is a puzzle encased in an enigma wrapped in a conundrum. Very often she doesn’t know why she feels the way she feels about sex. Circumstances, hormones (particularly birth control pills), children, the relationship, food, monthly cycle, economics, and stated or unstated unwell-being in her world all play a role in her ability to fill one’s cup. It’s probably not desire at issue; it’s capacity. If he walks away from regular conflict with the ultimate conclusion that since she can’t figure out how to bring herself to the marital bed with an agreeable attitude, then he isn’t being fulfilled nor loved. Yes, I conclude that is immature.
The gift here is to figure this out. It’s not easy, but it’s important. Yes, their boys will acclimate to divorce, as they no doubt have. Divorce is not abnormal these days, so there’s no social stigma, but there is a generational impact. Look, I’m not looking to hammer this guy or any guy on deciding to divorce. It’s “understandable”. As humans, we are deep into life well before we have the maturity to easily navigate our circumstances.
In order to have a strong marriage, in my opinion, you must deal with those issues while they’re small and not calcified frustrations, because by then it may be too late. You should ask, “How are we doing? I’m feeling very good about where we are, how about you?” These are questions to ask one another when times are good. Any weeds in your garden get pulled early when they are small. For Lis and I, we didn’t always do that. Sometimes some bugger grew underground for a while and erupted like Jack’s beanstalk. Yet we persevered and cut that sucker down and got to a deep intimacy.
Today’s Letter may have been a bit preachy. Here’s the takeaway: If your relationship is going well, it won’t always, so build good relational habits now. If your relationship is challenged here or there, that’s good. Take heart. This situation is designed specifically for you to mature in heart, mind, and in God’s ways.
To your marital intimacy,
At the peak of my business life (so far), I had 1500 salespeople working for my company. Every year we had an industry event where we would gather vendors to push their wares to our sales people at our own convention. It was fun and offered us the opportunity to design the events to our sales people’s specific needs and interests. I learned a bit about human nature during this time. Our salespeople were 100% commissioned and ate what they killed. Therefore, their motivations correlated to their actions which I conclude determined their income success. You’d think they would be interested in learning how to dramatically increase their income by just tweaking their efforts (not a massive overhaul) and market more effectively. Well, I thought so. So we got our top loan producer who was methodical in his marketing and induced him to create a presentation on his proven methodologies. We heavily promoted this seminar for our event.
The event overall was attended by about 400 people. Huge success. Our presenter had three sold out sessions totaling 120 people. Those interested in a FREE one on one follow up had only to write down his email address and contact him. Ok: Top salesman, proven system, easy to do, subsidized by company, nothing in the way to success but effort. How many followed up with an email? How many? Proven system…FREE, hmm?
Did you guess 13?
Yup, 13 people sent the email. 13!…And only 1 followed up to get the training. That 1 went on to become a top producer which resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional commissions to her.
This story is classic human nature. There are 119 reasons why those in attendance didn’t take the initiative. Let me propose one big reason: It is human nature to not get involved and instead live on existing momentum. It’s momentum that has a person remain in the audience. It’s easier to stay seated in the crowd and not stick out and look foolish, waste one’s time, commit to an idea not your own, risk being conned or consumed, to re-prioritize one’s calendar, or risk being bold and deal with the consequences of success or failure. In other words, it’s easier to do the same things tomorrow as you did yesterday than to motivate yourself to a new trajectory.
Granted, a few of the 119 were doing ok financially, but the vast majority weren’t. They could have changed their behavior, gotten themselves motivated, and ACTED!!, and reaped more from the same 24 hours in a day. It seemed to me to be a no-brainer. Yet, for them it was more comfortable to be in the audience than being on stage and giving the presentation. They were passive in business and I surmise passive in life.
As you think about your life, how can you take the initiative to disrupt your existing momentum and get out of the anonymity of the audience and onto the stage of your life. Here’s a more direct question: What can you do this month to get on stage and be the star actor in your life?
To disrupting momentum success,
I love my Dad – still. He died many years ago now, but I think of him often and wish he were still a part of my life, that he could see my family grow, could see my accomplishments and be proud of me. I still very much long for his approval.
My Dad had his shortcomings to say the least. When I was around 4, he traded me to our neighbors. Told me to pack up and head next door. As I was crying with my belongings in a suitcase walking to the door, he said that they didn’t want me and I had to stay. Pretty funny stuff there. When I was in my teens, he told me that even though I wasn’t much of a baseball player, I was the best dressed on the team. Hmmm, that was a huge shot of encouragement. In Dad’s entire parenting life, he never once told me he loved me. When I got my MBA, my wife invited my parents out to Denver for the graduation ceremony. They declined.
Ok, I’m an adult now and the sting of those things aren’t painful to me anymore even though the baggage was a drag on my self esteem for quite a while. I’m a father with three adult children and I understand my Dad a lot more now than then. When I was 4, he was 34. He had grown up on the farm with 4 brothers and an alcoholic, wife-beating Dad. As soon as he could he left and went into the Navy. He got a scholarship to the Naval Academy and entered the Air Force afterwards – flew F-100’s. His life was hard and not filled with lots of emotional development. So Dad had to figure things out on his own.
Was he trying to be mean to me? Of course not, he loved me. He was joking about the trade and the baseball “encouragement”. He thought it would toughen me up. Not saying “I Love You”? I don’t think he knew how to say it. The skipped graduation? He’d fallen on hard times and couldn’t afford it and wouldn’t take money from me. I loved my Dad then and thought he was a great guy and love him to this day, but he was…human.
Here’s the thing: The BEST parents in the world will make mistakes and inadvertently hurt a child’s psyche. In the best cases, children will hear something incorrectly or misinterpret something or make incorrect assumptions. Every child grows up in a different family than his siblings. Each child has his own personality, unique qualities, and birth order. These things make the family experience very different. So much so that two similar aged brothers can walk away from childhood with very, very different results. Parents say one thing and each child hears something different. Tough crowd sometimes. So what is a young man to do?
Re-parent. You gotta fix yourself.
It’s important that you recall your upbringing, keep the good, toss out the bad. Toss it all the way out and replace it with grace. If you’re stuck on something particularly painful, at some point you might bring it up and get clarity. But don’t hang on to bitterness or the feeling of being victimized by a horrible upbringing. No matter how bad it was, someone else had it worse. My buddy’s father told him “Marrying your mother was a huge mistake. I don’t want you in my life. How much money will it take to never see you again?” Pretty tough on a teenager. This sent him into a major tailspin with drugs, alcohol, and attempted suicide. But eventually, with God’s help, he overcame.
At some point in your life you have to accept the cards you were dealt, forgive, and move to improve. You can’t whine about it, just decide to be bigger, forgive, learn, and don’t repeat. The forgiveness thing is a pretty big deal. It helps the pain subside faster. Sure you may have truly had a terrible Dad and it would have been nice if things were different, but they weren’t. So by working on forgiving and letting it go, you can move on and not let it ruin the rest of your life. People aren’t cruel to kids because they’re mean. They’re that way usually because, given the circumstances, it’s just about all they can do. I talk about forgiveness a bit because it colors just about every waking perspective you have. Without it, good luck in your marriage, climbing the corporate ladder, keeping any success you achieve, and enjoying your kids. Forgiveness is huge.
Should you decide to confront your parents with something that’s bothering you, you might want to be prepared to be disappointed all over again, but at least you’ve got the courage to seek a mature engagement. Accusations won’t be a great plan, but seeking understanding can be worthwhile. “Dear Father, Dear Son” by Larry Elder is a great example of a black kid reconciling with his dad. Quick worthwhile read.
The real key in re-parenting is to figure out how you would have done it better and work on your heart. Your wife and kids will benefit tremendously from this heavy lifting. And it IS heavy lifting. The Father-Son dynamic absolutely affects who you are, how you love yourself and others, and how your life manifests before you. The earlier you dig into it and deal with all the issues, the better your life will be. I would put this as the number one factor in a healthy marriage since it is bound in your self esteem. This is a great topic in your Ironmen group and will certainly create a bond amongst you.
To your continued psychological success,
Though this may seem obvious, a man needs to feel valued and can only find peace with enough data that affirms him, whereas lacking that he will pursue self destructive behaviors.
A young man passes by a window and looks at himself to maybe catch his own eye. Is he narcissistic? No, he’s looking for data. Data that will affirm that he’s doing ok, that he’s on the road to respect. Self respect? No, that’s too self absorbed and lacks context. No, he’s checking in the reflection to see if he’s respectable among men, desirable among women, so that then, and only then, can he find self respect. Charles Cooley introduced the idea of “Looking Glass Self”, a concept that essentially says a man’s self-concept is an aggregation of what he thinks others think about him.
The desire to win is a desire to be seen as a winner in the eyes of others. The competitive spirit is early and often a drive to best others and receive data that validates one’s worth. Later, the competitive spirit adds the desire to self-improve and grow – initially to be a better competitor and thereby receive more validating data of superiority, but hopefully eventually just for the sake of enjoying growth. Competition in sports, economics, women, material display, intellectual ability, academic credentials at early levels are efforts to rise up in esteem so that respect is reflected in the eyes of the beholder. Self respect is derived from the aggregation.
And yet for some, for many, it doesn’t remain. Competition is a state of the environment and is unceasing. A man must “compete” for everything. A woman won does not stay won. Sure, a man and woman may remain married for a lifetime, but to win her heart for that lifetime a man must grow. He can’t stay static. He therefore must compete against his own nature of procrastination, or obstinacy, or just plain youthfulness. He must become successful in any endeavor whether in ministry, military or social service, or economics to earn her respect. And that is what he needs to be content – her respect – without which that relationship cannot thrive.
A man must compete in economics because economics never ends. To start a career is only to learn the ABCs of business and to trade time for gas money. However, contribution is about value. It only takes a few years in the economic world to have learned enough ABCs to begin to “compete for success”. The quotes mean that it’s not all about caricature money chase and cutthroat climbing. It’s about figuring out what value the world needs and how you can contribute towards that end. For me that means not competing head to head, but trying to make a better mousetrap. All told, gaining success, climbing the ladder, adding more value, earning a larger paycheck, building an enjoyable lifestyle is aggregating data towards building self respect. The man born to wealth can be challenged because the data towards self respect is warped by a sycophantic mirror. The man born to scarcity can also be challenged because the data toward self respect is tainted with bias and disrespect. And so the wealthy man and poor man who cannot gather enough data to support feeling positive about himself develops self destructive behaviors. I knew a born-to-wealthy man who literally wet himself at a party as a joke. Sad joke. And the number of stories of poor men in self-destruction mode are legion. Certainly any man who cannot find positive data in the eyes of those who look upon him will struggle.
And so, as do so many of my posts, I am led to what I think is an inevitable relationship. Though I am not evangelical in the least, I conclude that some active idea that God exists and can provide manifest guidance in this regard towards self-acceptance and eventually to self-respect. There is a secular pull that is a competition for a man’s mind that he must overcome to gain himself. The competition is amidst distraction, cynicism and faith. But faith in itself is shallow and tenuous, so therefore faith must be directed towards a higher object. It is simultaneously an internal and external search that ultimately, hopefully, lands on a relationship with God and results in self-acceptance and respect.
Ultimately gentlemen, your successes in life will have meaning only in context to your relationship with others, and yet, all the success in the world will have no meaning unless you derive self-respect as a result.
A bit deep today, but I hope there was something in it for you.
As stated in part 1 and 2, men need work and need to be on a path to pour out your best value in exchange for the best return available. Return can mean money, certainly, but clearly isn’t the whole picture. But it is an important measuring stick on keeping up with external forces as viewed through an internal lens. Let me unpack that: One’s life is an internal (mental, emotional, psychological, spiritual) endeavor that exists in an external (biological, physical, economic, political) world. In Part 3, I’ll attempt to take a longer view of man in the external world viewed through his internal lens and conclude with the next element of what a man needs.
In your 20’s you’re essentially spit out of your adolescence into the world with the beginnings of self understanding. Your brain doesn’t even finish its development until around 25 which by that time you’re slightly viewed as an adult. You’ve begun the long road of finding your way with a job and the economics of your life. You’ve got a little income, some debt, expenses, and a step or two forward on your career path. Hopefully, you’ve got positive feelings – hope, optimism, and energy – for your career. Initially you may know you’re not at the right job, but at least you believe in you and have a reasonable faith in God’s plan.
By the time you get to 30, you should be solidly on a life path. Income should meet expenses. You should have found balance with your spending habits and income and debt. You should have more responsibilities with job, marriage, and children. In other words, your competence in external life is being rewarded with more responsibilities that stretch your internal skills to manage them.
By 35, you’re fully an adult. Fully engaged in work, fully engaged in family, and being pushed and pushing the parameters of both. You’ve had to trim some non essentials in order to focus on your priorities. You’re now 10 years solidly on your path. Time to assess. Are you on track with economics that you had naively imagined when in your 20’s? Had you made implicit promises to your wife as to the life you’d have? This is the beginning stage of Compressed Expectations.
Compressed Expectations is my made up term for the expectations you consciously or subconsciously set awhile ago that are coming up on some future deadline (maybe 40-45). If you’re not on trajectory, then pressure builds in the marital relationship and in the relationship you have with yourself. I’m not talking just economics, but lifestyle. This is the socio-economic expectations of a relationship that is deemed “satisfying”. However you define satisfying lifestyle, it is likely some ‘equal to or better than’ version of your childhood. As that unstated deadline looms and you aren’t meeting your expectations, those expectations compress and pressure builds. How you and your wife react to this pressure, particularly when there are other pressures – children, sex life, changing bodies, keeping up with the Joneses – will affect your marriage. This is the crucible of marriage and I believe unavoidable, in a sense. Think of it as on a backpack trip where you’ve added lots of unwieldy items to your pack. Your mid-30’s is where you shift the weight through conflict, reestablishing new expectations, and discarding old items that don’t fit the journey. Yes, unfortunately divorce is a real possibility as you conclude incorrectly what the problem is.
The issue is, your expectations, motivations, intentions, ability to articulate your vision, the idea of even having a vision, setting goals, and all your actions towards creating a life that is satisfying to you and your family are mental constructs – the internal world lived out on an external plane. To help you with avoiding the echo chamber in your head, you need help. And so…
Men need men. Men need other men to confide in, to practice internal articulation with, to measure by, to bond with, to define truth through, to brainstorm with, get counseling from, and to sharpen against. This is the idea of Ironmen. It is counter-intuitive to say that men need men in order to succeed fully in marriage and work, but that’s what I’m saying. Even if your economics and marriage are a 7, regularly engaging with an Ironmen group will push you towards a 10. Because a 7 today might compress into a 4 down the road.
Shake it up men.