Do you know what you’re made of?
I don’t mean physically – like your composition. No, what I’m talking about are those experiences from your life that made you the way you are today. You know, like when someone says a certain thing to you – be that “get out of my hair”, or “what lovely eyes you have”.
What shapes the ways we respond to what others say to us?
Is it our original programming; that version of software that came pre-installed in our between-the-ears hard drive? Or is it the way we were conditioned by parents, teachers and life’s hard knocks?
A combination of both?
Here’s why I ask: There are things I’d like to change about myself. I can hear what you’re thinking now: “But John, you’re super great, at writing and probably many other things, so why change?” And trust me, I get your point – but there are still things about me I might want to modify a smidge.
Like how I argue.
Loretta: This ought to be interesting… Continue reading →
In honor of National Brother Day I thought I’d write about my brother, Brian.
Brian is two years younger than me, and two inches taller (which doesn’t seem right, but whatever) and is really one of the best guys I know. He’s always ready to help, and is cool under pressure which – if you had a childhood like ours – was a vital skill.
And by “childhood like ours” I don’t mean to imply our childhood wasn’t good, or healthy or loving. It was those things. But it was also dangerous, and daring, and exciting – mostly because we made it that way.
Here’s the sort of stuff I’m talking about:
Our parents were born in Ireland – and because they were they liked to go to Irish events to comingle with other Irish immigrants and do Irishy stuff.
One Saturday when I was about 12 and Brian 10, they piled us in the station wagon and took us to an Irish dancing competition at a local middle school (think Riverdance for 7th graders) so that we could watch the children of other Irish immigrants bounce up and down to really fast Celtic music.
Whatever. Continue reading →
So the funniest thing happened to Loretta and me the other day – and by funny I mean mysterious.
Loretta and I have been married for the better part of a year – and we were together for over a year before that. So you’d think we’d have the bigger topics sorted out by now. Sure, we know which side of the bed each sleeps on. And who gets the bathroom first (and I’m OK with second, really I am). But there are still some topics we have trouble with.
Like how much time do I get to myself?
Hi, this is Loretta, and I’ve been proofreading John’s columns for over two years now. Sometimes he listens to my advice, sometimes not, so I think it’s time I added my two cents to what he says about us. First of all, part of the predicament is, after years of being single and on our own, we tend to think in terms of “I” instead of “we”. It’s “how much time do WE get to ourselves?” Not ‘how much time to I get to myself?” Continue reading →
Have you seen American Graffiti?
I bet I’ve seen that movie twenty times, maybe more. It came out when I was young so the first few times I saw it I wasn’t able to consider the story with any real insight or savvy. I probably just liked all the hotrods and music and such.
But as I grew older and saw the movie again and again I developed a real affinity for this low budget coming of age story. It’s the tale of four young men just out of high school, on the last night they’ll be together before their plans for the future will carry some of them away from the town in which they live.
And on that last night they sort of struggle with the seeming finality of leaving – which is fitting because that’s how us guys think. You know, sort of like “If I leave I’m never coming back”. And since the movie was made by a guy – a fellow by the name of George Lucas – that zeitgeist clearly shows through. Continue reading →
Do you know how big your family is?
Seems like a silly question, right? I mean who doesn’t know exactly who is, and isn’t, in their family?
Well I suppose, but as I started to make my way in the world I noticed that I sort of picked up new family members as I went along. Take my years in the Air Force for example: When I first got to boot camp I was a scared and lonely kid a long way from home feeling very much like I was the member of a family of one. But when I finally got assigned to a unit, and met some of the guys there, and then sort of connected with them, well all of a sudden like my family started to seem a little bigger.
I was stationed in Washington DC and my unit had about a 150 guys in it. But of that number I traveled, and worked closely with, about 20 of them. We boarded planes together, we ate together, we played together – heck we even fought together. After a while these guys felt for all the world like they were my brothers.
Even the ones who were nothing like me… Continue reading →
“…so when Loretta and I got back home I set up a couple dates, with other women, online.
Please understand that last sentence makes no more sense to me now than it does to you – but at the time that was how I thought. Or maybe, more accurately, didn’t think. It was sort of this automatic behavior pattern I was in, like autopilot, which the online sites fit into – and fed into – perfectly. A new date with a different girl was always just an email away.
So I sent some emails, lined up a couple dates, and got busy distracting myself from the one woman I should’ve been focused on. After one of those dates I met Loretta at our coffee shop to go over lease forms for my rental (she had been in real estate and was knowledgeable about such things) and as we sat at a table deciding who was best to rent to, my phone buzzed with a text message. I looked at it and saw that it was from a woman I’d just gone out with the day before.
My demeanor changed instantly – and I was sure that Loretta caught it. The easy conversation we’d been having stopped being easy as it became clear there was now a new topic waiting to be discussed. Turns out Loretta had seen the screen of my phone as the text came in and so saw the name of the woman it was from and, not being shy, asked who she was. I said she was someone I’d met online and that we’d gone out. To say it was an awkward conversation is an understatement.
But we had it nonetheless – I told the woman sitting in front of me all about the other woman I’d just gone out with. I had this habit of being quite frank with Loretta – of telling her things that I wouldn’t confide in other women in my life. And I think ‘confide’ is the operative word here. I’d made her a confidant – I think because we started out with a friendship. And because she was my friend and confidant I would often tell her things without first thinking about how they might affect her – I guess as I would with a guy friend. But she was starting to have feelings for me. And I was starting to have them for her – and wanted to, in some way, make her feel like she was special to me, despite my habit of running with scissors. I told her that while I might meet another woman for coffee now and then, she was my lover – and because she was I would not be with another.
We were entering a curious space between friends and lovers, where we were still both – and yet on our way to something else…”
Although you may not believe what they do next – you can find out for a song.
Introducing the ‘Summer-Reading-List’ sale price of $2.99 for the eBook version of Online Dating Sucks …but it’s how I fell in love.
Do you have a memory that has stayed with you over the years?
You know the kind – it’s sort of like an unanswered question that lives in the back of your mind – and every now and then, maybe every month or two – or even every year or two – it resurfaces. It comes back because it’s a puzzle you haven’t solved yet. And if there’s anything that makes us uncomfortable, it’s an unanswered question. Well I’ve got one of those – and I’ve had it since 1989.
It won’t go away because it concerns the death of a man. Continue reading →
Do you remember when Star Wars came out?
And no I don’t mean any of the recent batch, I mean the original Star Wars – the real one – which came out in the 70’s.
I was at Britton Junior High then when word began to filter through the ranks of teenage boys there was a new, amazing sci-fi film coming. I think my brother and I pestered Dad to take us before the film was even out.
And when the thing finally did come to the Century Theater in San Jose you can bet we were there, in line, with what seemed like everyone else in San Jose. And it was amazing – I’d never seen anything like it before. Sure, there was 2001 A Space Odyssey, but with all the apes and symphony music it seemed more like a PBS documentary than anything else.
Star Wars, with its western style shoot outs and it’s clearly demarcated bad guy (Darth Vader wore even more black than Yul Brynner) was a flick us kids could really get into – and so we did. Soon the whole neighborhood was playing out the Millennium Falcon escape scene and Tie Fighter vs. X-wing battles until the street lights came on.
It was a seminal moment in our young lives.
So imagine my delight when the new batch of George Lucas shoot-em-ups came out. That was the late 90’s – by which time I had a couple boys of my own. Charlie was still too young to sit through a movie that didn’t feature a purple dinosaur or talking toys – but his older brother Connor had just started grade school – and I relished the thought of taking him to see the new Star Wars.
I of course thought it’d be just like when I was young. The movie would be awesome, and all his friends would see it, and then they’d go home and re-enact it over and over until the next one came out.
So when opening day arrived I had the theater pre-selected. I went by Connor’s school and, like any good dad, told the attendance lady that he had a dentist appointment – and then took him to see the show.
And it was as amazing as I’d anticipated – well, until the show started. Holy cow was that movie a hot mess. It had no discernible plot or leading man, and the racial stereotypes were so atrocious I spent the movie praying my boy was too young to notice.
Has that ever happened to you – where you were expecting something to be great and it fell flat? I guess it’s what happens when someone over-promises but under-delivers. And it happens in relationships too. Have you ever seen a couple start strong, and then come undone?
It happened recently to a friend of mine. He met a woman that he found himself very attracted to, so they dated a few times and his feelings for her grew – fast. I don’t think a month had passed before he started dropping the L word.
My buddy came on very strong with this woman at first, but I think that was before he knew who she really was – before he knew her quirks. Before he knew that she would probably not fit his life. But we guys do that sometimes – and I know it makes girls a little crazy, and we’re sorry about that, really we are – but we do it anyway.
And that can be a hard thing to explain.
I could tell you it’s because of those Hollywood movies where the guy sweeps the girl off her feet. But that wouldn’t be right, because we don’t go to those movies – but women do. As a result when the guy does come on strong women can be flattered, and go with it. They don’t always use their better judgment and question: “Wait a minute, this guy barely knows me – so how can he know I’m the one for him?” Instead they think their moment in the sun has finally arrived, just like George Clooney and Brad Pitt conveyed it would.
The only trouble is that after coming on so strong we guys often spook ourselves and then slow way down, leaving the woman sort of out ahead on her own, wondering what just happened.
At coffee this morning Loretta and I were discussing that paradox when she reminded me that I didn’t exactly sweep her off her feet. We actually started out as friends who grew very close and fell in love. We started contemplating some of our previous relationships and sort of discovered that the ones which did start strong – both hers and mine – were not the ones that lasted.
We also noticed that those relationships were much earlier in our lives. It’s my belief that at age 40 I was a product of my 30’s – and in my 30’s I thought I had the world by the tail. I thought I knew myself, and just about everything else. So when I reached 40 I was not the enlightened Obi Wan I am now, but pretty much under informed and self-centered – think Han Solo with a motorcycle.
And as such I used to come on pretty strong to women. And you know what? It never worked out – not once. I think that’s because too strong an opening play just can’t be sustained. And now, in retrospect I think my strong opening plays had everything to do with me and probably very little to do with the women. I wanted what I wanted – and I wanted it now.
Loretta confided to me that, as she made her way through her 40’s, if a guy came on too strong that behavior started sending up red flags. I think what she was saying was if a guy took his time, and got to know her, it made her more comfortable with the thought of maybe going the distance with him.
In my own case I think I came to a similar conclusion – if from the other side of the equation. I think I figured out, at some level, that if I got to know the woman to see if she’d fit my life before charging in with my light saber, I’d have a far better experience – as would she.
So it turns out that we’ve worked out, at least in part, because we have entered a stage in life where our concern for another – each other – have ended up making our own life a better place. And that’s a really cool thing.
Looks like there’s an upside to being old enough to remember the real Star Wars.
DO YOU KNOW WHAT LEAP DAY IS?
It’s that extra day we get at the end of February about every four years. Because it’s such a rare occurrence, it has some traditions attached to it — one of which is the old Irish custom that says a woman can ask a man to marry her on such a day.
And, being Irish, you’d think I’d have known that. But I didn’t — well, not until it was brought to my attention via text a little over a year ago. That’s when the woman I was seeing at the time messaged me with a very important question.
She wanted to know if I would marry her.
I thought that was both cute and sweet, and I told her as much. And while I didn’t agree to her proposal made in jest, I didn’t say “no,” either.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here — this story doesn’t start in February 2012, it begins in June 2011. That’s when I started writing a column about dating and relationships here in The Herald. And the month after that is when I met the woman who’d one day ask me to marry her.
How are those two events related? I ended up writing my first book about both of them.
Here’s how it happened: After beginning the column in June 2011, I met Loretta in July and we started a fascinating relationship in which we’d discuss the dynamics between men and women — especially as they related to, and played out on, dating sites.
Though not actually dating at the time — well kind-of-sort-of, but not really — we definitely enjoyed each other’s company. We were also sweet on the deep philosophical conversations we had. I probably have been remiss in saying so, but many of the columns I wrote as the Online Dating Coach sprung from those very talks.
And around November of that year — with maybe 25 or so columns written — the idea began to occur to me that they might form the basis for a book.
I don’t know that I’d really given that thought much consideration before the day Loretta asked me what direction I saw myself going with my writing. Suddenly, the word “book” popped out of my mouth.
When she asked me what the book would be like, I said a collection of my columns. I think what I envisioned at first was a year’s worth of columns in chronological order. And when I had a year’s worth, Loretta and I sat down and started to assemble them — but it didn’t go so well.
Wait, I thought, I can’t include the early ones — they’re unpolished. So I left those out. Then Loretta said, “Let’s group them by category!” — thinking, I guess, that we could divide them into chapters themed “Advice to women” and “Advice to men” and so forth — but the categories seemed forced.
What we ended up with after our first few brainstorming sessions was not so much a book as a first attempt by a couple of amateurs trying to approximate a book.
As we continued to work on what the book should truly be, I was campaigning for a straightforward compendium of the columns I’d written, but Loretta had another idea. She suggested I weave our story, of meeting via the dating sites and falling in love, in among the columns. It was an interesting idea — but one I wasn’t fully comfortable with.
Loretta couldn’t understand why I was hesitant to write the story of her and me — but now as I think about it, I may have been leery at the time because I did not yet know where that story was going. She and I were doing great by that point, but we had our times — like any couple I guess — of not doing so great. And I’ve been known to have this weird little fear that to begin a relationship is to also begin its end.
It’s sort of like life — when you are born is when you begin dying, if you want to look at it that way. But you’ve got a lot of living to do before you kick off, and sometimes, relationship-wise, I can lose sight of that.
Does anyone want to take a wild guess as to who got their way about the book’s direction?
And I have to say, I’m so glad she did. By weaving our story in among the columns, the book has become, as they say, more “accessible” — and I’m pretty sure that’s code for not boring.
Those who’ve read it so far say that our story, mine and Loretta’s, gives them something to connect with. And, sometimes, something to become exasperated with — one of the reviewers said it best when he wrote that “I found myself rooting for your relationship the entire book, and every time you (me) screwed it up I wanted to shake my Kindle and yell at you.”
And isn’t that what we want — something to connect with?
I think it’s sort of like songs — you know how you listen to a song’s lyrics and apply them to your life and identify with them, no matter what the singer may actually have meant? Well it’s kind of like that: We want to find things we connect with, that help us understand, or better communicate, our own condition.
And that’s the book that Loretta helped me to see.
And here’s the part that really intrigues me now: Writing the book’s story helped us write our own. We were talking about our own story one day earlier this year when we came upon one of those not-doing-so-great times, where she and I were having trouble seeing our way forward together.
But having written down our story up to that point helped us to see where it needed to go.
And so she told me her fears, and I told her mine, and we came up with a way to let go of both sets — together.
So here’s something I didn’t share with Loretta for quite some time: I’ve told you that she once asked me to marry her, and I told you that I didn’t say “no.” Well, one day, not all that long ago, while sitting on the couch and having an unrelated conversation, I looked at her and I said “yes.”
That “yes” — uttered during a talk about something wholly unrelated — was my answer to the proposal she’d made on Leap Day.
And that’s where we are now — married, with a book that is not only our story, but the story of a year’s worth of advice columns I wrote for The Benicia Herald.
And to bring it full circle, that book is now available at Bookshop Benicia on First Street, just a few doors down from The Herald.
It’s at that book shop where I’ll soon be doing a book signing. And — spoiler alert — when you come I bet you’ll have a pretty good idea who that beautiful woman at my side is …