I’m approaching the mid-point of my thirties this year.
And I have no idea what I’m doing. Still.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’ve accomplished a good bit. And I have a semi-idea of how to proceed to make sure the lights stay on. To make sure that I can afford to feed and clothe myself.
Went to school. Got the doctorate. Did the training after school. Got the “dream” job.
I look into the horizon and I sometimes feel like the thing that I most need is the exact opposite of what’s in front of me.
The older you get the more that the world tries to imply that you should avoid discomfort and risk. We look down at people who are still figuring it out publicly at an older age. The 40 year old rapper is admired by exactly zero people. And while I can’t comment on the viability of that plan, I can say that I admire people who are willing to swing wildly, enthusiastically and intently at life.
I grew up in a immigrant household, whose whole life was built on decreasing the amount of risk that was inherent in their decision to leave their home country and build stable lives in America.
They tried to decrease any tendency towards risk-taking by encouraging all of us to take “stable” jobs in “stable” industries. As we are all finding out, the future is no respecter of the past. Change is happening so fast, there is no guarantee that the stable jobs of yesteryear will continue into the next decade.
Also, somewhat unrelatedly,
Risk is a part of life.
I think this pressure to avoid risk is what slowly kills men in relationships.
I’m not advocating for unnecessary and unsafe risk. But, I am confident that men die inside if the opportunity for adventure is stolen from them.
And it may not be actively taken, it may be something that we give up because we think the people who surround us are asking us to give up that part of ourselves.
There has to be a way to ensure that adventure remains a part of our lives.
Let me speak for myself.
I know I need to find ways to challenge myself daily, weekly, yearly.
I don’t know what I thought relationships were for.
I thought they were here to make me happy. I thought relationships were a place of ease, of country comfort, and oversize fireplaces.
I used to think that relationships were a breakfast nook.
I’m starting to think that I was wrong.
Relationships are a breakfast nook in a blacksmith’s shop.
If you let them, they’ll reach into the cranny of your soul and try to bring out the ugly, slimy, unseen parts of you.
If the relationship is good, they’ll hold these up to the light and place them before you.
Not judging, not shaming, just letting you know that you can do better.
That you don’t have to hide.
That you can be yourself and still be loved.
If you can stand firm, when the ugliness inside of you is being pulled out, then the relationship can do it’s work. If you can withstand the desire to run. To bail. To pull the ripcord and blame others for the world’s ills that have been deposited inside of you.
If you can stand firm.
It can let the sun into places that haven’t seen light in a while and open windows that have been wallpapered.
More specifically: One fish. Meticulously prepared. For me.
This fish made it’s way from cold water of the arctic circle of the pacific ocean, to my local whole foods grocery store.
Although the fish’s species was indeterminate, I was sure about one thing:
This fish was going to be delicious.
It was cooked African style – whole – with the head on. A reduced tomato based stew was lovingly ladled over the fish and it was wrapped in foil while it was nestled inside the oven.
I had tasted a bit of this fish when it was first baked.
It. was. delicious.
I couldn’t wait to dig into the fish.
When I got home, there were some friends over. As I started to process of warming up the fish to make it ready for the gasto-journey I was going to embark on – I noticed some of my friends eyeing the fish with interest and perhaps..desire?
I wanted to eat the fish.
I felt like after a whole day of thinking, hoping, wishing, and dreaming about this meal, I deserved to have it all to myself.
I announced this aloud to the room. Repeatedly.
I saw the light dim in some of my friends eyes.
My girlfriend pulled me aside.
And reminded me that the fish might be divided but the love would multiply.
There are probably a couple of good reasons for this. #1 being I’m in a place in my life where I am taking advantage of opportunity to think. I feel like I’m in a space where I can observe my thoughts and be more clear about the decisions I’m making and what may be driving them.
While I was visiting the west coast, me and my siblings had a long dinner + great family discussion about our childhood and where we are currently, in some of the different (less discussed areas of life).
From that discussion, one of the things I’ve been digging into recently is attachment theory. (listened to a Podcast, reading articles, re-listening to books)
Attachment theory is a psychological model attempting to describe the dynamics of long-term and short-term interpersonal relationships between humans. “Attachment theory is not formulated as a general theory of relationships; it addresses only a specific facet”: how human beings respond in relationships when hurt, separated from loved ones, or perceiving a threat.
I first stumbled across this theory of relationship when I was reading/listening to the book – Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find- And Keep – Love. The behaviors described in the book and the questions they posed led me to the conclusion that I might have an Avoidant attachment style. I felt so seen and like someone had opened the closet with the monster in it, that I had always known existed but couldn’t put words around.
A quick paragraph about the avoidant frame of reference might read:
I am somewhat uncomfortable being close to others; I find it difficult to trust them completely, difficult to allow myself to depend on them. I am nervous when anyone gets too close, and often, others want me to be more intimate than I feel comfortable being.
This theory (summarized HERE) gave me a framework for understanding the way that I operate in my romantic relationships. In my mid-thirties I’ve been in enough relationships to be able to note the behaviors that pop up periodically in my romantic relationships with others.
One problematic behavior is something that (several) ex’s have called “Hot and Cold-ness / fickleness”. I can go weeks absolutely adoring someone, but a minor disagreement or maybe a push for more commitment (or contemplating more responsibility) may trigger a tendency to emotionally shut down around that person. I usually become slightly passive-aggressive and have lower energy levels around them. I may become muted, or start to think deeply about whether this person “fulfills” the deepest longings of my soul. These thoughts become the bricks that build the case against staying in the relationship.
There are other tendencies I see in myself, such as:
Past relationships or the imaginary “perfect relationship” can get put on a pedestal. It makes it easier to find the shortcomings of the current one, thus avoiding getting too attached.
They’ll seek out faults. Every little thing can add up to create an undesirable picture of their prospective partner (or actual partner). As in the above point, they may think they’re better off with someone else.
Commitment is off the cards. Or at least, it’s a lot trickier to broach. Avoidants often see it as an infringement of personal boundaries and a challenge to their independence.
Especially if the goal is to build a successful long-term relationship.
I’m currently in a long-term relationship, with the hope of making it a super-long-term.
My practiced patterns in past relationships, makes its difficult to ascertain whether the emotions of ennui, unhappiness, or frustration are the result of true, real, problems inside the fabric of the relationship; Or the triggered remains and patterns of behaviors that exist inside of my brain and nowhere else in reality.
I’ve been in my current relationship about a year.
How have I made it this far?
One method I found is to first, distrust negative thought patterns. Whenever I get into a pattern of negative thoughts about my partner or my relationships, I don’t express it or bring it into the world (at least in full form). My partner, (luckily or unluckily) can tell when I get into these emotional tailspins. And usually she tries to keep a brave face while I try to work out these emotional knots. I try not to spew my negative thoughts at my partner as I try to figure out if my grievance is real or imagined.
My next step is usually to Talk to trusted friends. Ideally, friends who are in places I want to be. So I talk with my married friends and share my current emotional speed bump. I share my concerns audibly and sometimes just the act of speaking aloud my concerns helps me to realize that the phantoms I feared were ephemeral.
Usually these discussions help me to also hear what healthy thought patterns around relationships sound like. An added bonus is that I’m training myself to strengthen the friendships and intimate relationships in another sphere of my life. My friends feel closer to me and I feel closer to them as we navigate life and our struggles together.
After these discussions, I usually feel clearer and better able to see my partner without the added baggage of unhealthy emotional reflexes.
For now, that’s been enough. I know there will come a time when I have to be more aggressive in figuring out how to continually build positive regard and positive internal dialogue about my partner in order to not do damage to her and to force her to not have to suffer through my periods of negativity/avoidance. Or figure out ways to better control the passive aggressive display of my fear of intimacy.
“I heard the lonely howl of a single siren in the distance, like a ostracized coyote on the prowl”
About a week or so ago, I wrote a bit about consistency, and how I struggled with it. Historically, unless I have a burning urge to finish some project, my completion rate on certain “dreams” of mine was abysmally low.
However, the last week has been a weird yet insightful one.
It’s been very purposeful. Almost slow. I’ve written daily which forces me to live a bit more in the present. I’ve been trying to avoid workaholism, and signing up for every shift possible.
I’ve felt a bit more centered overall. It’s been nice.
With the extra time I had to think, I had time to really think about my goals.
I heard a podcast that really gave me perspective on the things I’ve been aiming at. It made me realize that the truth is – I just don’t want those goals bad enough right now. Instead, I’m enjoying the status quo. I also need some downtime in order to cultivate the seeds and soil that my next project will grow out of.
My new goal is to be still enough to hear the voice on the inside as it tries to lead me into the next season of my life. I still believe my vision for my life is still going to come true, the path just might look a bit different than I expected.
Thinking off the top of my head of goals that I might want to add to my to-do list:
Go to therapy for my relationship habits
Hire a personal trainer for a year
Take a martial art class for 6 months-1 year
Travel to All the countries on my original goal list: Ghana, senegal, south africa, SE Asia, etc
I got into an argument with my girlfriend the other day.
I enjoy a good argument.
I enjoy pitting ideas against each other to see what/whose ideas are more “true”
During said argument, she mentioned that smart people have a tendency to over-complicate things. And, she noted wryly “you’re very smart”.
I thought (quietly and to myself) that perhaps she tried to make things a bit too simple.
The argument passed like a spring storm in the tropics.
The next day, however, I pondered her accusation. I thought about the immense amount of reading I did before I took action. I thought about the pages of to-do lists that I create just to knock out a couple of things on them. I thought about the year-end/beginning goal list that I create and what my percentage of completion is for them.
She might be on to something.
The day after this realization was a bit clearer and less stressful.
I was less focused on the future and creating plans for the next 12 months. Instead I focused on what I could accomplish this week. I felt a significant change in my stress levels. Instead of trying to conquer the world, I just needed to conquer my week.
And none of the tasks on my weekly to-do list required superhuman levels of discipline. Just a bit more follow-through.
The other thing that happened is I started to think about how many goals I’ve added to my to-do list because I felt like I should. How I “felt” I should be making more money, but I wondered if I actually wanted to work harder, or was it just what everyone tells me I should be doing.
More money would be nice.
But so would more time to think, write, and exercise.
In fact, I think that more thinking, writing, and exercising would make me significantly happier than another 5-10k.
Today was a calm day. Not a elon-musk-level-productive day. But a conscious day. A happy day. A introspective but relaxed day.
I look forward to more thinking and less over-complicating.