Friday Night Date Place – Stronger Together

“We are all, in a sense, experts on secrecy. From earliest childhood we feel its mystery and attraction. We know both the power it confers and the burden it imposes. We learn how it can delight, give breathing space and protect.” –Sissela Bok

People don’t do friendships well. We don’t lend ourselves well to making friends (or have no idea of what making/being a friend is) and thus call people who should be acquaintances “friends” or BFFs, though they are as disposable as an unfriending on MySpace.

Part of the problem is out inability to handle intimacy well. When we ask ourselves why do we insist on continuing to date after so many heart wrenching, near life-destroying, pain-inducing, love experiences (and then remain hopeful that the next dating experience will be different)? our answer boils down to one word: intimacy.

We know that intimacy can be abused, but some people start off with a fear of intimacy. The idea of becoming close to another human being causes us to (mentally or emotionally, if not physically) flinch. T o run away. To not give people a chance. To let someone in, to care about them and let them care about you can only lead to two things: 1) the laying down of roots as you invest in a relationship and 2) the possibility of future loss, because at best all relationships are til death do we part.

This lack of intimacy can sometimes be the result of self-fulfilling prophecy. Because of your experiences in the past, you’ve become reluctant to meet/let new people in. Not entirely unreasonably, your instinct tells you that they will be like the rest: they will get to know the real you, not like you, judge you, or otherwise abandon you and rather than wait for them to do so, you push and push and push new people until they finally have had enough and move on; then you pat yourself on your back for being right in not trusting them. In effect, you reject them before they can reject you and thus intimacy never occurs.

Some people can go through life as lone rangers, rootless in their life and relationships. However, I basically think that this points to the lie, or at least to the end, of American-styled individualism. That whole “I am an island”, “I don’t need anyone”, “you can only depend on yourself” ethos that eventually runs its course. Just like systematic theology can’t answer some ultimate/basic questions about faith, and when we come to the end of its usefulness and move on; in life, experience often teaches us that there are limits to what our own bootstraps can carry us through.

Yes, in the end, people will fail you. Despite our best intentions, sometimes even for the noblest of reasons, folks will let you down. That’s no reason to never let them in. Life is full of regrets. You, too, will fail others, but I’m sure that failure doesn’t define you, nor your relationships, and you’d like the chance to be forgiven and try again.

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Friday Night Date Place – Memo to the Nice Guys

Thinking back to my single and lonely days, I distinctly (painfully!) remember how often I was trapped in the friend zone. You know what I’m talking about: wanting to date, not quite knowing how to get with a person you’re interested in, end up sidling alongside them, becoming their friend and then confidante, even best friend, but they never quite see you as anything other than a dear friend.

I was always that guy. The best friend guy. Always had a bevy of girls around because they needed to bounce their ideas off of someone (and this was before the gay best friend thing became fashionable). But I was the safe guy, the one they could talk to, the one whose shoulder was always there for them to cry on. On one level, it was nice to have the attention and to be able to hang out with so many women. I learned how to be comfortable around this strange species of humanity, how to listen to them, what things they were concerned about. On another level, it was rather emasculating. Think about it: you weren’t seen as a “guy” as much as this sexless/genderless friend. Gender neutral.

You were a nice guy (or gal pal).

You were the one who watched the object of your affection go off and date, get into relationship after relationship, making bad choice after bad choice, waiting for them to FINALLY learn their lesson and appreciate what was beside them all along. How did that work out for you?

Like a fine piece of writing, I was never appreciated in my time. This may have been a function of where I was in life. High school/college-age. Ready to settle down (then … I out grew that a few years later once I recognized the pluses of singleness). I hadn’t come into my own. The girls/women I was interested in weren’t interested in settling down or lifelong commitments. They wanted to date and have fun. They weren’t looking for husband material.

So, memo to the nice guys: your time will come. Eventually your peer group/dating pool will come to appreciate you for what you are. You just need to be prepared when you are. Don’t be living in your mother’s basement or shacked up with an ex-girlfriend. Don’t let your lifetime of “woe is me” attitude define who you are. Don’t become self-defeated by your perceived ineffectiveness at dating (or unattractiveness to the other sex). Have a job and be prepared to be, if not a provider, then at least an equal partner in the relationship. Nice guys (or gals) don’t have to finish last, only be in a place where they can be appreciated for who they are when the time is right.

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Friday Night Date Place – On Jealousy

Jealous thoughts cause trouble
Yapping all the time
You know they’re listening for rumours
So that they can drop a dime
–Jealousy, Club Nouveau*

I’m not a jealous person by nature.

It’s not that I don’t value my relationships or don’t get worked up about them, but I’m just not all that jealous a person. I’d like to believe it’s because I’m pretty secure in my relationships. More likely, it’s because I’ve seen the dark side of jealousy a few times too many. It’s a surprisingly short jump to go from following our significant other to their home and through their routine to buying a weapon, strapping on a diaper, and driving cross country to straighten someone out.

We recently had a discussion about jealousy at one of our gatherings. Though jealousy has been called “the dark side of love”, it has at its root zeal and envy that revolves around a sense of passion. Like with many things, it can be good and it can be twisted into something bad. The good side of jealousy is simply a protective reaction in a perceived threat to a valued relationship. It guards against trespassers into the relationship.

When it goes bad, it’s an unchecked passion, love twisted into an unhealthy obsession and irrational possessiveness. Jealous becomes a weapon to guilt, scare, or trap a partner in a relationship. (It’s funny how our jealousy seems perfectly reasonable, but our Significant Other’s jealousy is some kind of character defect.)

God describes Himself as a jealous God (Exodus 34:14), so obviously this can’t be a bad thing, right? We need to remember that we were created in God’s image and while we are quick to anthropomorphize God, He doesn’t have our qualities perfectly, we have divine qualities imperfectly.

So yes, there are times when we are to be jealous in our relationships. We don’t want to run so far away from anything approaching jealous that we develop a pathological tolerance, an emotional disinterest, or the absence of jealousy where we’d expect to see it. We want to guard those relationships that matter to us … just check yourself before you find yourself knee deep in bushes in order to check your man (because, if it gets to that point, you probably have all the answers to any questions you have anyway).

*Probably the most depressing thing about this blog was the fact that I found the lyrics to this song on a site called “Golden Oldies”. Oy.

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Friday Night Date Place – Sport Dating

I overheard a lady in our church once ask a hapless single caught in her headlights “if you’re not going to get married why bother dating?” I know where this is coming from, one of the questions that I get quite often is, believe it or not, is when will I know that I’m ready to date? The answer to that question almost has to begin with the answer to a different question: are you ready to get married?

I know, it sounds like I’m going to advocate the “date to mate” school of thought when it comes to dating. I do and I don’t. I fully believe that dating relationships ought to have at least an eye on the potential of that partner as a mate (and as the relationship continues, more than an eye). I also know full well that people can recreationally date. That’s part of what singles groups (and part of what often makes them go bad) are all about.

Sheesh, do you need someone to give you permission to just go out, have fun, killing time with someone of the opposite sex? Go. Do. Keep in mind, however, that, especially as people get older, they don’t have time to waste with the dating game and it becomes unfair to raise someone’s emotional expectations. So I will leave the sport dating to the teens and twenty-something crowd, with the caveat that even they, should they find the relationship going on for awhile, should have a distant eye on the idea of “is this someone I would be willing to commit to and spend the rest of my life with?”

Many of us like to plan, have a direction for everything. It’s our inner control freak nature. Going with that mentality, it’s good to have to have a goal, knowing its accompanying motives and attitudes, and openly communicate as you go along. The goal could be relatively simple like nothing more than just killing time with someone. This can be as simple as two (strictly) friends hanging out. Of course, this is rife with the danger of the unspoken interest. Even if you both start from a platonic place, there is always the possibility of something kindling for at least one of you.

Some folks date to have fun. Let me call this what this is: friends with benefits. Your snuggle buddy. Your strictly casual, no strings attached, kiss without commitment partner. Um, ditto on the dangers of kindling.

Sport dating may go against a goal-oriented mindset because it goes against our nature to just enjoy a moment. A person’s company. Have a spot of fun. Without direction or moving toward a specific destination. As long as both parties are on the same page about it and keep in constant communication about it, the situation should be fine. I’d caution you to be fair to the person you are going out with, and figure out what you want to do before you start and let them know. You’d be surprised how much less complicated life gets with effective communication.

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Friday Night Date Place – Long Distance Relationships

Long distance relationship present their own brand of issues. I’ve been in a few (and they were exceptionally short-lived, even by my standards). However, I’ve had a few friends who have met online, though living in different countries, and have not only made a go of things, but even got married. To my mind, a long distance relationship amounts to one thing: missing that person (aka long distance sucks). So, to provide the voice of eloquence, I turned to a friend of mine to give me his perspective.

A guest blog by “redwinegums”

Long Distance Relationships.

They suck.

Plain and simple. Essentially they do. There’s the additional stress and strain of distance in addition to the normal downs in a relationship with very few of the ups. The hazards are plentiful and range from insignificant to major. They can work but there a few things that I feel make the difference. I’m not one to talk really. I’ve had two long distance interests. Neither worked out if works out means leading to a happy marriage. One ended well. One took a while to do so. The experience in my circle is of long distance relationships. In fact my expectation is for a long distance relationship. I’m not even sure I’d know what to do if I got a girlfriend who lived like in the same city as me. I’d be clueless as a result of shock for the first week or so. She’d find a way to snap me out of it I’m sure.

I don’t think long distance relationships are doomed to failure. In fact if you look back on the amount of conventional relationships that fail it’s not any big competition. A person might have half a dozen relationships in their life that don’t work out. This doesn’t mean that conventional relationships are cursed. With any type of relationship it takes work for it to come together. With long distance relationships it just takes a lot more work.

Anyway here are a few thoughts that represent my current views on the whole area. It’s just my opinion. Not a set of rules upon which your relationship must abide by in order to succeed. I’m no expert but when talking about life I’m not sure being an expert means all that much anyway.

The necessity of real time together before the break

I’m sorry to say that I don’t think starting the long distance thing from scratch seems to work. Not in my experience. The long distance relationships that have worked are those where the people involved spent a period of 6 – 12 months actually living their lives physically in the same location. The distance element happened but was never a permanent feature of the relationship. It was always a hurdle to be overcome; merely a phase that both had to endure. It’s very hard for a relationship to work when both people are on two very separate long travelled roads winding further away from each other

Know where life is leading

I think you need to be answer a few questions in an honest and truthful manner. Are we in similar stages in life? Can I move? Can they move? Will either of us actually move when it comes down to it? How does this affect those around me? Does leaving my support circle and starting a new life scare me? It should. If it doesn’t you’re fooling yourself. This ties into the previous point about distance being a phase and not a permanent state of affairs. If he’s planning to live with pygmies in Africa and you are going to become an investment banker in London it’s unlikely to work out.

Everything other than real contact is only almost

We’re spoiled in this part of the early 21st century. With Skype, email, IM clients and text messaging there are so many ways to keep in touch with loved ones. It’s great but it’s not real. It’s a mini date in a way every time. It’s an artificial situation that can seem natural because it happens so often, but it’s that regularity that can be so addictive. It can also become soul shattering because when you flick off that computer screen there hasn’t even been a simple little embrace to say goodbye. There’s just been the same old feeling of I wish you were here and now I have to face my life without you in it again.

You get their version of their life. Not the real version

“How was your day?”

Such an easy question but so difficult to answer. In fact most people never do. They gloss over it. The fine, fine, fine refrain a mother gets when she asks her children about their day is one that is heard in stereo in every town and city. Even if the other tells you they’ve had a bad day you don’t see how it affects them. She might comfort eat or be bitchy to her house mates in a way she isn’t to you. He might completely over react when a small little thing goes wrong on the computer and bang the table and start cursing. You don’t see it unless they tell you. You don’t seem them being mean to that barista or that waiter. Distance isn’t normal even though it can feel like it when you’re in the midst of it. What happens is you get used to living a life without someone it. It can be a tough change to handle when what you’ve wished for all this time actually happens.

Personal Caveat

I’m not sure how much of my experience is of use to anyone. I approach a romantic relationship in the conventional sense with marriage as a very realistic consideration. There’s been no sex and thus far not much kissing either in my life. I’ve never been on a date. Probably why I’m irrationally so good at crafting one for public consumption. In a very real way I’ve never properly had a girlfriend. The last interest was a total of four days physically in the same location in a total of five months. And two of those days were the days when we first met without anything in the picture. It’s easier if you have money and the ability to travel. With me it’s never been a case of hopping on a plane and visiting. In actual fact it’s normally been a minimum of two planes to even get to the other. It’s something to be acutely aware of. How far away does he or she live?

My brother is currently in a long distance relationship with an altogether wonderful woman. She is studying in the USA and he is studying here. Right now she is doing an internship in Australia. When he leaves Australia, having worked the entire summer to pay for traveling 20,000 miles to see her for a mere 15 days, it will bring the amount of time they have physically spent in the same location to a total of two months in two years.

In summary, they suck. More than you know. You might think you’re ready and able to handle it but you’re not. You don’t know how bad it will be until you are lying down wishing he was there and realizing that in a very real sense you are still alone. I’ve had two. Neither worked. Been honest I’m not sure I could handle another long distance relationship. Knowing someone would cuddle or kiss me but can’t due to distance is soul destroying in a situation like that.

I’ve traveled the world for love before and would do so again. Sometimes you don’t care about the odds you just know you have to take that chance. But you can’t be sure until you see the other and decide whether the risk is worth taking

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Friday Night Date Place – Embracing the Truth

Continuing our conversation from last week, I know it’s not easy to free ourselves from a lifetime of false lessons and beliefs about ourselves. It’s easy to get trapped in a mire of “woe is me,” a self-fulfilling and self-perpetuation spiral of self-hate. I don’t live under any illusion that we can just flick a switch and change.

But you don’t have to be who you are.

The overwhelming majority of folks I talk to know exactly when they are doing this emo dance of self-delusion and pity and simply can’t get out of their own way to stop it. It’s their default setting, a comfortable response to help them cope with the reactions they’ve come to expect from people. It’s the flip side of the chip on the shoulder posturing.

So I can’t say just stop it. I will, however, start by saying … stop it.

You are a precious creation of God. Precious. Accept yourself. No, better stated, accept the truth of yourself. Recognize that you, too, are an eikon, an image-bearer of God; worthy of respect, value, and love. We participate in the Divine Being, meant to partake in the Divine Life and Happiness*. We were created in love, for love, and are to open ourselves to the possibility of love. Embrace that love.

Draw on the love already in your life. I have several people in my life who are “sick” of how I see them. Because they don’t see themselves the way I see them. People of value, who deserve to be esteemed and appreciated. Whom I’m thankful God brought into my life and have made my life all the richer for knowing them. You know what makes them most uncomfortable? The idea that they don’t know if they can live up to how I see them … because they had had it so drummed into their heads that they weren’t beautiful or were somehow unworthy of being loved.

I’m ready to cut someone again.

Sometimes the only way we can really see ourselves is when we are reflected back in the eyes of someone who truly loves us. It gives us courage, strength, and a sense of worth we may never have known that we had. Find it in God, find it in the overflow of His love in your friends and family, and let that love begin to transform your thoughts.

Embracing the love and finding freedom and empowerment in it to love and be loved is a good second step. The next is to demand it. You DO deserve better. It’s okay to have high standards for yourself, to try to live up to them, and in so doing, help others to have higher standards. It’s okay to demand to be treated better.

In the end, part of the transformation is a matter of faith. You see, it takes a lot of faith in yourself to make such a step and make such a transformation. Confidence is little more than faith in yourself and that’s hard to teach. But embracing your value, that much of a step I think we can handle. As a start.

Because you deserve better.

*Special thanks to M. Basil Pennington’s True Self/False Self

Friday Night Date Place – Believing the Lie

After my “dating teh crazy” blog (which mind you, wasn’t meant to be the most serious of posts), I was troubled by a recurring theme among some of the comments. It was as if they were battling against some sort of image forged in high school or something which they have carried with them well into adulthood. An image of themselves that tells them that they aren’t worthy of “doing any better.”

We are the fruit of a lifetime of listening to voices. Such formative listening too often results in us listening to lies, many of which we tell ourselves or allow ourselves to believe. We’re told we’re crap by enough people that we start to wonder and doubt; then we become quick to leap onto any bad appraisal of ourselves and end up in a self-defeating loop. That’s why it is so important to choose carefully the voices you choose to speak into your life.

This false idea of ourselves begins in small ways. You may have well-intentioned parents or teachers who trade on their love, attention, and/or favor to get you be behave a certain way. You may have grown up among peers/friends who constantly judge one another on who’s the funniest, has the most stuff, the prettiest, the most athletic. The take home lesson absorbed through all of this: you only have worth if you behave a certain way. What you are amounts to what you have, what you do, and what others think of you.

Too many of us have had life beat us down and feed our insecurities like a bulimic at a buffet to the point where we don’t think much of ourselves. We believe the lies these “lessons” have reinforced. We live in a closed off place, afraid to let others into your life because you secretly believe they might find out that we are what we believe ourselves to be: ugly, unloveable, unappealing, and unworthy of attention. suddenly we not only can’t see why someone else would like us or see anything of worth in us, but also think we better take whatever comes our way and be grateful (even if it means dating teh crazy).

You deserve better. Stop believing those lies. Self-destructive and self-hatred are not cute. There’s no need for you to keep putting yourself in “relationships” or situations not worthy of you. You deserve better. You have the right to be picky. You have to put to death this lie you’ve created of yourself. You deserve better.

Show me who’s been filling your head with those lies. Don’t make me have to cut somebody.

You deserve better. You are loved and worthy to be loved.

Next week I’ll talk about what it means or might look like to accept the truth about ourselves.

Because you deserve better.

Friday Night Date Place – Friend Custody Battles

I’ve mentioned before that we have a family way in our house. Well, I’ve noticed an awfully disturbing pattern among some of the pictures along the wall: some of them are covered. You see, we tend to have portraits of our friends’ families up spouse and children, but some of our friends have gotten divorced. So for the sake of the friend who still comes over to our house regularly, we cover up the picture of their spouse (which serves two functions: 1) it’s analogous to sitting shiva on the marriage as we mourn that relationship; 2) my wife wants a reminder for folks to send us updated pictures of them).

It’s tough because part of what the family wall represents is a running document of the people we allow to speak into our lives. Our children know our friends by sight and name, even ones we don’t get a chance to see as often as circumstance has caused them to drift out of the regular rhythm of our day-to-day lives. It’s also tough because for years we considered our friends and their spouse family. And it’s not like we’ve stopped being family.

All of this reminded me of question I received not too long ago: who gets the friends when you break up? It was asked by a friend who assured me that she wasn’t considering her options in case they broke up, but rather because as the friend of a couple who had broken up, she wasn’t sure where her loyalties should lay. I remember my friend’s words concerning mourning periods of relationships: “WE’RE NOT IN JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL ANYMORE, SO LET’S ALL ACT LIKE ADULTS, PAINFUL AS THAT MAY BE.”

(Although, let’s face it, all that we know about relationships we learned in junior high school and the bulk of us have progressed much further than that.)

Anyway, I’d say that the situation depends largely on two factors: 1) the independent relationship you have with each partner in the relationship and 2) the nature of the break-up. Sometimes you have two friends who decide to date. Those are “hold your breath” dating scenarios because you KNOW if they don’t work out there are difficult times ahead for you/your circle of friends because human instinct if things go terribly wrong is to choose a side. [It’s nice to play Switzerland if you have that luxury, though typically one friend or the other is going to feel slighted with such a choice.]

If it’s a case of a friend of mine dates someone I don’t know, it’s a matter of if I’m able to establish independent friendship with the partner outside of my friend or if I’m friends with them solely through Significant Other. Most times the latter which makes it easier to go with my boy (or girl) should things end. [There was one notable occasion where one of my dearest friends introduced me to her boyfriend. He collected comics, loved sci-fi, and introduced me to this game called Magic: the Gathering. She knew when they split that he’d get me in the custody battle, so she opted to take the house instead.*]

In terms of the nature of the break up, cheating, abuse, generally being mean or what have you messy wise with my friend as the victim, I’m gonna support my boy (or girl). That simple. If it’s my friend that’s being a jerk, well, they get to hear about that, too. Friendship doesn’t mean blind loyalty.

As for your circle of friends, it shouldn’t be much of an issue. You give the couple space and be sensitive to their healing. There’s no reason why it has to be an either/or situation of the group choosing one friend over another. As long as you have independent relationship with folks and the break up wasn’t messy to the point of deep lasting hurts, time can heal many wounds.

*It was an ugly break up and complicated occasions like wanting them both in my wedding, but now things are just fine between all of us. Navigating that was a delicate dance on eggshells, however … for years.

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Friday Night Date Place – A Question …

I know I usually spend these Friday Night Date Place blogs opining about one thing or another, but this week I need a favor. I’m thinking about the whole idea of a postmodern relationship. So I turn to you to ask: what might a postmodern relationship look like?

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Friday Night Date Place – Dating Teh Crazy!!!1!!1!

(Before I get emails, know going in that this isn’t one of my more serious responses/blogs.)

“Emotionally unstable women are fantastic in the sack. Their self-loathing translates into … nevermind.” –Jack (Alec Baldwin), 30 Rock

I realize that most of my Friday Night Date Place blogs tend to be aimed at women, but that’s because that’s who I hear from most often when it comes to dating relationships. More than one war council meeting has convened in my living room and I’m just there to take notes. Today, however, I’m doing one squarely aimed at the fellas.

Here’s how the conversation began: “Why do guys date crazy women?” Ladies, you know the answer before you ask the question (do you need to re-read the opening quote again), but I’m going to go through the motions of answering this question. Let us refer to a certain sub-species as Personae dramatis. Some may call the behavior of this group … crazy. Look, we don’t always know that the people we’re dating are crazy. It’s not like they wear “hey, I’m craaaaaaaaaazy!!” T-shirts. While sex is not hard to get, to quote my brother-in-law, “I don’t need no crazy cootchie.”

Although, I’m not gonna lie. Sometimes we know they’re crazy going in and still go there. Even I, this pillar of dating stability, may or may not have gone there in his dating life. I may or may not have said the following after 48 hours of dating someone: “Look, you and I just are not going to work. This relationship will crash and burn in spectacular fashion. You’re just kinda, you know, crazy. But if you want to keep dating knowing that it’s going to end badly, I’m in.”

Cause I just keep bringing the romance.

Anyway, like I said, an actual guy war council broke out in my living room for a change (well, three guys minding their own business while the women convened a war council and we had to defend ourselves) and one issue involved the dating of the crazy. We hated to burst all the mystery, but we’re not that deep.

For some, crazy represents a challenge. In the same way how when you buy a puzzle book, you go straight to the back, passing up less complicated, less messy puzzles and go straight to the hardest ones. There’s a thrill to the “danger” of it all and trying to get out of a mess relatively cleanly. But, to quote a friend, it boils down to “I still want to hit that.”

The other question I get is “when is the crazy too much?” In short, your mileage may vary. Hopefully some time before what we’ll call the Left Eye Rule: if she tries to burn down your house, it may be time to buy some roses and call it a day. However, it usually doesn’t have to get to the whole “I’m gonna burn everything you own” level. Most folks build up to that. You get the phone calls, the 3 a.m. texts, the emails, the showing up at the job (come on, now, you don’t bring stuff to work). Mounting crazy behavior would encompass everything from throwing a glass table at you to vandalizing your stuff to leaving bloody underwear in your locker.* And what is too often the male response to such behavior: “Can I hit that one last time?”

Alright, look, crazy is not contagious, but it does have a way of working its way under your skin. Crazy is infectious and some people need that sort of high level drama in their life (to spark it or whatever). Crazy is passionate. Crazy is exciting. Crazy is a bit of a freak. Dating crazy does not make you enlightened, it makes you crazy because crazy likes to inject drama into their lives and tell everybody about all the deep emotional trauma going on in their lives. Crazy likes the constant rollercoaster and you need to decide if the ride is worth it.

In the final analysis, crazy is what we all are. Some folks are broken in emotional ways and frankly, some of the relationships they are prone to enter into are self-destructive (<-- you may want to click on this link for a more serious take on this topic) or enabling. Sometimes dealing with the crazy makes you appreciate the sane or, to again quote my brother-in-law, “you have to go to the cave to come out a super-hero.” Anyway, guys … aren’t that deep. Some brothas need 13 steps to quit the crazy, cause 12 just ain’t enough. “My name is Jon and … hey, you look nice…”

*Sadly, all real life examples. Not all of them to me. Though I’ll fully admit that I can bring a special kind of joy that drives women to, well, throw a glass table at me.

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