"Long Covid"

The news of the day is that so-called "long covid," persistent cases of COVID-19 that never seem to go away even after months, is possibly not real. Much of the data documenting "long covid" consists of self-reported survey data collected by an organization lead by "spiritualists," and many of the symptoms associated with it are identical to the scientifically debunked "chronic Lyme disease."

What could be going on here?

When I read about this, I'm struck by my own personal experiences. Diabetics like myself often take a long time to fight even simple things like the flu and the common cold. Such is life with a weakened immune system. A cold that other people get over in two or three days can sometimes persist in my body for two or three weeks. This is a fact: I can't "fake" or imagine three weeks of a runny nose. 

Coughs and chest congestion are somewhat easier to fake and/or imagine. One can truly believe that there's something in one's chest without there actually being something there. Headaches, fevers (especially mild ones), body pains, lethargy, fatigue, and so on, are all symptoms that can be imagined just as well as they can be experienced in reality. Put slightly differently, these symptoms are as real when they are psychosomatic as they are when they are the result of a viral infection.

When I was a young boy, I caught some stomach bug. My family and I were all downstairs watching MacGuyver when a sudden wave of nausea swept over me, and I threw up all over the carpet. I felt physically awful, but I was also mortified by the fact that I had just puked in front of everyone, that I hadn't had enough time to run to the bathroom. I can still see it in my memories as clear as day. Rightly or wrongly, the experience got into my head and stuck with me a long time. I developed a bit of a "complex" over it. For months - years? - I had to sleep on my stomach with a pan beside the bed. Every little twitch and gurgle in my stomach seemed like evidence that I was going to vomit. I'd wake up in the middle of the night with an imaginary stomach ache and sit with my bed pan, trembling, waiting to throw up. I'd run into the bathroom and just wait.

You could say that I was suffering from "long stomach flu." I had a little mental thing that I eventually out-grew. But were my stomach pains and gurgles real? Absolutely. One of the things that cured me was the realization that I could make myself feel nauseous just by thinking about it, and that before I knew it, things were really gurgling in there. 

The root cause of my "long stomach flu" was fear. I had had a real stomach bug which, when combined with a situation that seemed traumatic for a little kid, because a genuine and perhaps justified fear in my mind. Then the fear took over and manifested itself in physical symptoms that lasted a truly long time. To this day, I'm a bit scared to vomit, and I try to avoid it if at all possible - even when it would probably help me feel better. 

But the stomach flu is small potatoes compared to COVID-19. Today, society is confronted with an illness that, when serious, results in hospitalization, intubation, scarring of the lung and heart tissue, terrible fevers, and slow suffocation to death. Even when it's not a serious case, patients are forced to wonder if they will eventually develop deadly symptoms, and the timeframe between minor covid and terminal covid appears to be days. That is genuinely terrifying. As for those of us who have not been infected, COVID-19 has held us captive indoors, forced us to wear masks in public, stolen hugs and handshakes from us, paralyzed our economy, and created a kind of mass hysteria that many believe to be completely justified. 

In short, COVID-19 is terrifying enough to make manifest any number of psychosomatic symptoms, even in people who have never been infected by it. Rather than dismiss their suffering, we should compassionately acknowledge it; but, we should acknowledge it for what it is.

Those patients who must recover from pulmonary and myocardial scarring will probably take a long time to return to noromal. This is to be expected, since wounds take time to heal. During that time, such people will probably feel weak and sometimes lightheaded from lack of oxygen and/or low blood pressure, and/or any other predictable symptoms that come from such a significant cardiovascular ordeal. COVID-19 is certainly not unique in its ability to cause this kind of lengthy recovery. Pneumonia of various causes will produce a similar long recovery in patients who experience severe cases.

As for those patients who have few remaining physical signs of a COVID-19 infection, and still report spooky-but-vague "long covid" symptoms like aches and head "fog" and fatigue, it seems more likely to me that they are struggling with fear and psychosomatic problems. That's okay! We've all been through quite an ordeal with COVID-19, even those who never contracted it. 

We should not, however, sink over a billion dollars of public funds into chasing a phantom. Treat people with compassion and listen to their stories. Hug them and give them emotional support. But encourage them to rise above their fears, or at least to be aware of them. The last thing anyone needs is a false excuse to be coddled.

I'll say one final thing in closing. Early in the pandemic, I noticed that the number of people claiming in casual conversation to be "high risk for covid" seemed to exceed expectations based on disease prevalence. That is, a lot of people seemed to be adopting an "out of my way, I'm high-risk!" attitude. This attitude was not without its rewards. Remember that early in the pandemic, grocery stores had reserved shopping hours for high-risk populations. High-risk people were first to be admitted to the hospital, first to receive medical treatment, first to receive the covid vaccine. They also received extra lenience from their employers, and extra patience from friends and family. There were, and are, many incentives for people to claim high-risk status with respect to COVID-19.

Thus, it is not out of the question that many people who make these claims, and who make claims about "long covid" are, in fact, manifesting some form of Munchausen Syndrome, feigning illness for attention, sympathy, or personal benefit.


Boys Don't Cry

A friend of mine on social media posted a web comic yesterday about "toxic masculinity." The gist of the web comic was that "toxic masculinity" was essentially the insistence that boys not cry or show any emotion or hint of struggle. When boys encounter pain or difficult, we should be strong, keep a stiff upper lip, hold our emotions in. The argument is that this insistence that men suppress their emotions is the essence of "toxic masculinity."

A few things are worth noting here.

First, I don't think this is quite what women have in mind when they complain about "toxic masculinity." Sure, women would prefer it if men were better communicating about their emotions, but compared to things like rape and rape culture, men's emotional intelligence is really a secondary concern. 

Second, it's true that men and boys are often encouraged to suppress their negative emotions, and it's undeniable that this takes a toll on our mental health.

But most importantly, I'd like to point out that there is an explanation for this that doesn't involve "the patriarchy." We know that among children, girls' emotional regulation is superior to that of boys. We also know that mothers of girls show better emotional regulation than mothers of boys. Taken together, what this implies is that young boys will tend toward more emotional outbreaks than young girls, and that the children's mothers will respond better to the girls than to the boys. "Stop crying!" isn't some nascent, diabolical, patriarchical social conditioning ingrained into us; it might simply be that children with worse emotional regulation are more often told to stop crying.

Once parents have practiced telling their boys to stop crying and suck it up long enough, it turns into a habit. Through that habituation, it becomes a mantra, and boys end up with more emotional repression than women do. 

Granted, some boys probably are told to stop crying for social reasons. In my family, we were all (boys and girls) socialized to be emotionally repressed, and that's caused a lot of problems for us. My point here is not that there is one, single, non-patriarchical cause for all male emotional repression. My point is merely that this phenomenon can happen even when it has nothing to do with the patriarchy

And, in general, we should resist and be skeptical of any intellectual framework that seeks to tie all social problems to a single, underlying cause. 



 After having gone through a year's worth of unexplained symptoms and puzzled doctors, in October of 2009, I finally received a frantic call from my primary care physician, telling me to go to the hospital as soon as I possibly could. I arrived at about two o'clock in the afternoon, and was rushed through a series of interviews I can barely remember now. There seem to have been a couple of triage points, several conversations with a nurse practitioner, a lot of waiting around, and then finally a rather anti-climactic visit from an endocrine specialist.

In her Irish accent, she told me, "I don't quite know how to tell you this, but you're diabetic, and..." She trailed off briefly, probably considering whether there was anything emotionally helpful she could provide for me in that moment. Then, apparently deciding that there wasn't, she continued, "We're going to give you an insulin shot today, and--and you're going to be on insulin for the rest of your life."


"Yeah..." she told me. Then she said something that I don't remember, which somewhat conveyed empathy, but which also conveyed the urgency with which she needed to inject insulin into me.

From there, I was led into another room, where another nurse introduced me to my first insulin pen. I hadn't had time to process what was happening to me. This had all happened within about 30 minutes, and the part where I found out that I was henceforth an insulin-dependent diabetic had only happened a couple of minutes ago. These people wouldn't let me catch my breath. I was being rushed from one end of the ward to the next, from room to room, person to person, each one hurrying through a set of instructions that I don't remember; that I never had any chance of ever remembering in the first place. 

The nurse who showed me the insulin pen quickly went through instructions on how to give myself an injection. The tutorial was over in less than a minute, at which point she sort of gestured toward all the paraphernalia in between us and said, "Do you want me to help you with your first shot?"

That was it.

The confusion in my mind suddenly melted away. Everything sort of melted away, everything except a sense of purpose. I said, "Well, I might as well get used to it now. I'll be doing it for the rest of my life." I took the needle and the insulin pen, pulled off the seal, screwed the needle onto the pen, dialed in my dose, jabbed it into my stomach, and pressed the button.

I've been a diabetic ever since.

*        *        *

While I didn't know everything there was to know about managing my diet as a type 1 diabetic, a similar shift happened to me when I got home that evening. One day, I was eating ice cream cake and jalapeno poppers, the next day I was meticulously counting my carbohydrates and denying myself anything that required an injection. 

I don't know how it works for other people, but that's how it worked for me. There was no use crying about every meal I was going to eat from then on. There was no use complaining about it. There was no use comparing my new diet to the freedom and decadence I had enjoyed as a normal, healthy twenty-something only a few hours before. Once my mind had absorbed the fact that I was a type 1 diabetic, my behavior followed. 

Adjusting to a new chronic condition isn't easy, especially if you really enjoyed the life you had lead up to that point. But my thinking was, what other choice do I have? It wasn't as if I could go back to living in a world in which I wasn't diabetic. The task at that point was to figure out how to thrive under my current set of conditions, not despair over what those conditions were. It did take me a long time to fully emotionally accept my condition, but that was a grieving process, not a struggle against reality.

Grief itself is a natural part of human existence. We all grieve. For most people, grief - however emotionally significant it is - does not put a halt to the other aspects of our lives. Grief makes us sad, and causes us to think carefully about the present state of our lives. It isn't a denial of reality, but rather an acknowledgement of it: the person we loved is now gone, the life we led is now impossible, the precious thing we had is now lost. Whatever the cause, grief is a transition from one set of circumstances to another. If someone fails to make the transition, that failure isn't caused by the grief, but by our own refusal to evolve.

*        *        *

Granted, some transitions are easier than others. When a man becomes a diabetic, he transitions from a general identity, like "I am a man," to a new identity that involves the condition: "I am a diabetic man." Seeking out that new identity and discovering what it means on a personal level is a large part of the journey itself. Strange as it may sound to some, I consider this to be an easier transition than when we lose a loved one. I can become a diabetic man, but a man who loses a father cannot become a man without a father. Once you have a father, you are always a person with a father, even after you lose him. 

So, I do understand that some transitions are harder than others, that some grief is more uniquely difficult to overcome, and that one person's struggles don't always map with parity to another person's struggles.

Even so, grief is a transition. No matter how difficult, and no matter how long it takes to fully process, grief is a doorway into another room, a next chapter of life. (Luckily for us, not every new chapter of life requires that we grieve to make the transition!) What some struggle with is acknowledging that the previous chapter has already ended; that room no longer exists. Either we step through our grief, into the new room, or we try to exist in a nothing-space, an emotional nether-region.

What we can't do is go backwards.

*        *        *

A friend of mine recently committed to making a positive change toward better health and fitness. He made his commitment public in a bid to keep himself accountable. I congratulated him and made myself available to him; after all, I do happen to know a few things about health and fitness. He confessed that he felt a little intimidated by me, and said, "Anyone who has run 30+ miles has a different set of mental skills than me."

This is a good friend, but clearly he doesn't read my blog, ha ha...

I wanted to tell him about the power of mindset. I wanted to tell him about my firm belief, confirmed again and again in a variety of different experiences, that everyone has all the same stuff. After all, we are all human beings. While our genetics all differ slightly, none of us is so different that he has a completely different mental skill set. 

I also wanted to explain to him that this very notion, the idea that something immutable between us has caused me to pursue a lifetime of fitness while causing him to pursue something else entirely, is the belief that limits his progress. The worst thing we can ever tell ourselves as we pursue a goal is that we are fundamentally incapable of being the kind of person who excels at such goals. 

No, the first step toward achieving any goal is acknowledging the reality that such a goal is achievable by people like us. Why pursue something if, by definition, you're not the kind of person who can attain it? Instead, we must reach for our aspirations under the belief that, truly, we can do it. That doesn't mean for certain that we will, but isn't it nice to know that it's possible? Indeed, isn't it necessary to know that it's possible? Has anyone ever achieved the impossible?

I don't recall ever hearing an Olympian explain in an interview, "I knew all along that everyone else was faster than I am and that I didn't have the right stuff to win an Olympic gold medal, but by the end of the race - gee whiz! - I had won!"

*        *        *

Of course, mindset isn't merely about achieving something. The reason that sorting out your mindset has the effect of helping you achieve something is because if we fixate on our limiting beliefs or on transitions we haven't been able to make, then new things we want to do are just off the table. In a way, it's less about having a "positive mindset" than it is about not having a negative one. 

Any pessimist realist will tell you that positive thinking isn't enough to get you where you want to be. You also have to put in all the hard work, and get a few lucky breaks along the way, and eventually serendipity happens. However, negative thinking will definitely screw you over before you even get started. 

And if that's what negative thinking does to your attempts at achieving something, think about what it does for your daily life. We don't always want to get up and get ready for work in the morning, but who do you think is going to have a better day: the man who groans and grumbles and frowns and complains the whole time, or the man who focuses his attention on whatever he has to look forward to that day? 

I can tell you from experience that my days pass a lot more quickly when I get to drive my daughter to her ballet class once a week. Those are simply wonderful days. We hurry to get ready, and then we drive together, just the two of us, to her class; we listen to our favorite music as we drive, or else we have a nice conversation together. Then she goes to class, and I go for a walk around the scenic neighborhoods surrounding her dance studio. When it's over, we drive home, she tells me about her class, and then we get takeout from a favorite restaurant and everybody sits upstairs eating and watching our favorite TV shows. It's become a whole ritual, one that we all look forward to, and one that we all find very satisfying. 

Not every day can be that fun, but simply by virtue of the fact that my Wednesday evenings are so nice, my Wednesday work days pass by quickly and happily. That's a positive mindset for you.

You might have had a "divorced friend," a friend who went through a particularly bad break-up, and it soured his or her perspective on everything. So every time you talk with your friend about your own spouse or partner, your comments are met with derision, or sarcasm, or else steered toward a rant about your friend's ex and how bad they made everything. How much fun is it to spend time with these people? 

A few days ago, I wrote about how, after going through my own break up, I decided to turn myself into the kind of person who my ideal partner would want to date; unlike other people I knew, who allowed their break-ups to make them cynical. I think the results speak for themselves.

*        *        *

All of these things come down to having the right mindset. Whether you're trying to overcome a bad situation, trying to achieve something remarkable, trying to lose weight, trying to find the love of your life, or just trying to make it through Wednesday, having the right mindset is the power that will carry you through.

And if it doesn't? You're still not out anything, because you will have spent most of the day thinking positive things and being happy, rather than thinking negative things and being sad. I'm not a fan of Pascal's Wager, but in this case I think it works. If you maintain a positive mindset, and things don't go your way, then you haven't really lost anything. If you maintain a negative mindset, things still might not go your way, but what you've lost is the happiness you could have felt if you had a better attitude. And in the meantime, that positive thinking really could end up paying off, and then you have both the happiness your attitude brought you, along with whatever victory you were hoping for at the end of the day. 


Individuality And Getting Rich

I was talking about standards of living with a friend of mine. His position - one that you've probably heard repeated in the media multiple times - is that people are worse off now than they were 20 years ago. I produced data to show otherwise: Disposable income and the wage cost index have both out-paced the consumer price index. I know that's not the whole story, but the point is that the prima facie evidence suggests that people are much better off now than they used to be; moreover, in order to make the opposite case, you have to get into a rather complex analysis of the economic indicators, and with that complexity comes additional nuance and additional debate. All said and done, it's incredibly difficult to argue that people are worse off now than they were 20 years ago. Meanwhile, it's rather easy to argue that we're better off now. So, that's what I believe.

Another friend of ours joined the conversation by asking: If disposable income is so far up, why do Millennials have such high rates of debt and low rates of home ownership? The answer to that question is that Millennials have high rates of student debt; in other words, Millennials prefer taking on debt for their schooling, rather than taking on debt for their housing. Others might disagree with their preferences, but that's beside the point. The prefer what they prefer - that's not a problem with disposable income. (Besides, as anyone with a mortgage or a student loan knows, it's possible to have both debt and disposable income at the same time.)

Well, this conversation got me thinking about wealth, and about the choices I've made in my own life. I'm not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm more comfortable than others. What did I do that other people couldn't, wouldn't, or didn't?

I was still maintaining this blog back in 2012, when my wife and I moved from Canada to the United States. We deliberately moved to a place with a low cost of living and low housing prices. On one income and zero credit history, we were able to purchase a duplex within the year at a pretty low price; but keep in mind that we bought less than what we could afford. We lived in one half of the duplex and rented out the other half. We paid the mortgage off early, bought a detached home, and rented out both sides of the duplex. We now had two incomes along with the rental income from the duplex. That's when life started to feel really comfortable for us.

This is not a revolutionary way of living. Thousands if not millions of young couples get started in just the same way. All it requires having little to no debt (so, don't buy anything that requires debt - including an expensive college education) and the willingness to postpone your "forever home" for a little while (live in a cheap duplex instead of your dream home for as long as you can stand it).

Everything that we did 10 years ago was pretty much the opposite of what was popular, normal, and expected at the time. My wife and I had good jobs in Ottawa and were making pretty good money. We were on the verge of sinking $300,000 or more into a home in the Ottawa area, paying 14% sales tax on everything, spending lots of money on winter accessories every year, paying Canadian tax rates, and so on. When people found out we intended to move, they were surprised; but when they found out we wanted to move to Texas, they tried to talk us out of it. They made fun of us for it. We were doing the "wrong" thing.

There were obvious reasons to move to Texas, however. Texas has no state income tax, which saves us a lot of money every year. Even now, home prices and real estate prices are far below the national average, making it a great place to invest in income properties. With year-round warmish weather, I'd be able to run outside all year long, keeping my diabetes in check, and thus saving a lot on future medical expenses. Food is cheap here, too. 

So all of the arguments against moving to Texas involved the fact that Texas isn't particularly cool, while all the arguments in favor of moving to Texas involved minimizing expenses and maximizing potential revenues. Economically, the choice was plain as day. We simply had to sacrifice our X-factor. I think it was a fair trade.

When we became landlords, people made fun of us then, too. They called us "slumlords" and talked about how they'd never want to have to "deal with" tenants. Some people told me that the idea was "lame," which I guess just means that it's an uncool idea. But economically, it enabled us to afford a home, food, clothing, and living expenses on just one person's income, while my wife waited for just the right job opportunity to come along. Eventually it did, and she parlayed that opportunity into quite a great career. For a while, however, she had to be the uncool one being supported by a white man husband while she stayed at home without a job. 

When you get down to brass tacks, the secret of our success, to the extent that we are successful, is that we didn't allow social trends to dictate our behavior. In order to be successful, in order to make a really comfortable living and expand your horizons a bit, you have to be willing to do the uncool thing. You have to do really "lame" things like:
  • Moving to an uncool place
  • Taking an uncool job
  • Taking an uncool risk
  • Starting an uncool business
  • Not listening to all your cool friends
There might still be an opportunity for you, dear reader, to come to Texas, buy cheap land, and do what I did; but every passing year makes it slightly more difficult for you. The next generation of "people like me" will need to look at even more "uncool" places to repeat a similar pattern. You might have to move to Mississippi or Kansas. You might have to live in a small town. You might have to delay going to college until after you've set yourself up with a good income property or two. Heck, you might even have to go to trade school instead.

I mean, who knows? I don't know how to "make it" in the future, I only know how to "make it" in the past, and perhaps the present.

What I do know is that in order to "make it," you're going to have to do things that are different from everyone else, different to the point of being uncool, different to the point where your friends tease you relentlessly and your family thinks you've become a crazy Republican who moved to Texas to fight abortions and socialism. (Yep, that's what my family thinks.)

Getting rich mostly means being able to recognize things that will be cool before they are actually cool. A lot of people will criticize you along the way, but that's how it goes. If doing what everyone else does was the way to get rich then everyone else would be rich. If they're not, then you have good evidence that what they all choose to do is probably not going to make you rich, either. 

So, don't be afraid to be uncool, take a risk, and be different. You might find out that that's what works in the end.


How To Meet The Love Of Your Life

When I was fresh out of college, I was working at a place where lots of young people my age worked. It was a lot of fun, because we all liked to laugh and hang out together. Every day at work was like spending time with a big group of friends. Those are always the best workplaces, at least when you're young.

One of my fellow coworkers - let's call her S - was something of a workplace stereotype: she was young, very beautiful, had recently been through a breakup, and had thus started to sleep around a lot, and consequently a lot of the young men in the workplace had started to pay a lot of extra attention to her. She enjoyed the attention, and they enjoyed giving it to her, and the rest, as they say, is history. 

At the time, I didn't fully understand this dynamic. It wasn't until a few years later, after I had worked for a few different employers and observed the same phenomenon again and again that I finally wrapped my head around it. I remember working in a big office in Ottawa, and there was one very attractive and newly hired young woman there. Let's call her L. L spent half her time joking innocently with the men in the office and the other half of the time talking about her boyfriend. But she was 22 years old and fresh out of college, and all the creepy old men in the office knew she was going to soon break up with her boyfriend and inevitably start sleeping around. They were hanging on for their chance, when it inevitably happened. And it did. 

I don't fault anyone for "shooting their shot," but it bothered me a lot that many of the guys surrounding L all the time were twenty years older than she was, and married. They were creeps. L couldn't see it, because she was young, naive, and convinced that all these creeps were just fun guys to hang out with at work. It was a path to being used.

That was years after I met S, but S was in a similar situation. S had a lot of other issues going on with her, as well: she had unresolved parental baggage, had experienced a certain amount of abuse, was possibly bisexual in an extremely conservative community, and so on. But she was also a very nice young lady with a terrific sense of humor, and she made great conversation. So she and I became fast friends.

One time, S and I were talking. She mentioned that she gets lonely, and that was one of the reasons she got attached to so many guys. I suggested that she try hanging out with friends instead. I told her that she had lots of friends, and she should spend her time with them if she felt lonely.

When she heard this, she laughed, and said, "And what if I feel like having sex? Should I call up my friend Breanne and say, 'Hey, can you help me out with this?'"

I laughed, too. But I didn't reply.

*        *        *

Although S and I were good friends and very compatible at the time, we never got together. I ended up in a relationship with a very different kind of woman. Let's call that woman M. M was funny, smart, and one of the most terrific friends I ever had.

M was also depressed, a fact I didn't initially notice or understand about her. Being with M gradually slid into a very difficult relationship. Prozac Nation is one of the most accurate portrayals of depression I have ever seen on film; being in a relationship with M often times felt a lot like being a character in Prozac Nation. Perhaps a better man could have persevered in a relationship like that. As for me, I didn't have the right stuff. M and I went our separate ways.

Building a life together with someone involves creating a trajectory for yourself. Your mutual aspirations fuse together into a coherent plan forward, and everything you do becomes a march toward your aspirational goal. Or, one of you is crushingly depressed and neither of you can see beyond the fog descending all around you. A bad relationship - even between good people - will rob you of your sense of self and steal from you any kind of trajectory you once had. You become a very different person than you are used to being, a very different person than the one you always wanted to be. Your life becomes a game of perpetuating the relationship, of always trying to save it from the inevitable.

Truly, you can live your whole life that way. What happened to me, however, was that I made a sort of rational realization one day: If I fight this hard in a relationship this bad, imagine what I might be able to achieve if I fought that hard for a relationship that was even just a little bit better. I knew what kind of effort I was capable of; I had been putting in that effort for years. What if there was someone out there who was capable of putting in even a fraction of that effort... for me?

*        *        *

Like many people who go through break-ups, I had spent months breaking up with M and not even realizing it. I got out of a dead-end public service job and into a really exciting consulting job. I stopped shaving my head. I started training hard as a runner again. I wrote a dozen really good songs. I even changed what soap I was using. It was a metamorphosis I simply didn't recognize until M and I called things off, and I moved out. Moving out even entailed getting a new apartment, and buying a new car. And of course that new job required a new wardrobe. An outside observer might have said that I had become a completely different person, but the truth is that I had become more of myself. 

That in itself is a whole story that needs telling, but what matters here is that I had stripped myself of the pieces of my identity that weren't actually mine to begin with. Those pieces belonged to the relationship I was in, and the identity that went along with it. The new pieces were the ones I put there by choice, deliberately, based on my own beliefs about who I really am.

This was my crossroads. At this point, I could go the way of S or L. I was young, gainfully employed, fit, attractive, and surrounded by beautiful people who also didn't mind being surrounded by me. 

*        *        *

I had already undergone a significant metamorphosis. It occurred to me that I might take it further. What if, instead of just becoming a better person, I decided to shoot for the moon? What if, instead of living a better life, I aimed to live an ideal life? 

I thought about what an ideal life might actually be like. If I could be doing anything with myself, what would that be? What is the kind of thing I've always dreamed of, but which I've never dared to attempt?

Well, people have all kinds of dreams. Some dream of being rich and famous, others dream of being captains of industry or CEOs; some want to become artists and undertake the Bohemian life, others have wanderlust and set out to see the world. Some have simple dreams, like being parents or living in an old farmhouse; others hatch complex schemes of achieving a list of accomplishments at specified points in their lives.

When I thought about the kind of life I dreamed of living, I thought about a peaceful little beach I saw in Central America. I thought about the humble but beautiful coffee estates in the mountains of El Salvador. I imagined a life in which I could live in one of those nice, small little open-air villas, drinking coffee, picking up groceries on a motorcycle, and spending my days strumming my guitar on the beach. It's not for everyone, but it's what I wanted. Maybe, while I was there, I would meet a local woman who wanted to spend her time similarly. 

With this thought in mind, I started taking small steps toward my dream. What would it take to accomplish something like that? I knew I needed a lot more money, and so I started working on my professional development. I started practicing my Spanish daily, and listening to Spanish language music and radio programs. I got rid of my TV and spent that time reading books and bettering myself. 

For a while, that became my life. I worked hard all day, put in overtime, went home and worked out, ate dinner, and then read and studied. In a way, it was lonely, but it was also extremely productive. I felt optimistic for the future, and each small thing I did in a day seemed like a tiny step I was taking in the direction of my dreams.

That was when I discovered the secret.

*        *        *

I had a vision of the future and a small amount of momentum taking me toward it. What I soon discovered is that people gravitate toward these kinds of vectors. In the dating market and the market for friendship, people are attracted to those who know where they're going, even if that destination is different from what they themselves prefer.

You could think of it like this: millions of other 28-year-old men in the world had good jobs and a reasonably sunny disposition; only a few knew what they wanted out of life.

Of course, here I must pause to point out that many 28-year-old men know what they want out of life, and what they want is lots of casual sex and some good times. That's not a vision for a lifetime, that's a vision for next Saturday night. People aren't attracted to a great vision of next Saturday night - at least, not the kind of people you want to spend your life with. People are attracted to a great vision for a lifetime. 

I met many women during this period of my life, and more to the point, many women met me. That is, I suddenly found myself the center of a great deal of positive attention. That was great. Although I met many women, I did not date many women. This is where my path diverged from that of S and L.

I had another friend we'll call A. A lived thousands of miles away, and was in a similar situation as I was. We both had our own chosen visions of the future and wanted to achieve them. We were both interested in finding a person to share it with. But, while I was searching for the kind of woman I definitely knew wouldn't hurt me like M did, A was not being as deliberate in her search.

Then, one day, we were IM-ing about our respective dating lives. While I was working my way closer and closer toward the kind of women I felt really good about dating, A had been on a string of dates and was casually having sex with a number of men, with no serious prospects on the horizon.

I started telling A about my philosophy, about how I had devised a vision of the future that I wanted, and about how the women I wanted to date were all people who respected that vision and wanted to be a part of it, people who could nurture me as a person as I nurtured them, people I could fall in love with. And the more I held that in mind as my ideal, the closer I seemed to get.

Then my friend A said, "I have physical needs, and I need to get those met." She sounded just like S. And just like S, A was taking herself further and further away from positive, nurturing relationships, positioning herself to be used by opportunistic partners who were not interested in her long-term vision.

And the kicker is: A was willing to give it all up to get her physical needs met. I've been horny, too, but Jesus Christ.

*        *        *

Flash forward some thirteen years.

I am married to a wonderful woman I met during that phase of my life. We moved somewhere warm and pleasant, and possibly temporary. We still share that vision of the future that I developed long ago, but we also recognize that if we achieve the same headspace in a different location, that will be okay, too. But we are still taking steps toward it. Meanwhile, we have two beautiful children, a comfortable living situation, all of our basic needs are met, and we have a wonderful, loving relationship.

A is doing okay. She could be doing better. Her ambition is a shadow of what it once was, and she went through a long period of very mentally difficult years.

S is also doing okay, but she never went anywhere in life. She's a single mother. She's still beautiful, but she lives a hard life.

I didn't keep up with L.

I also didn't keep up with M, but by all accounts, she is doing okay, too, and I'm happy about that.

It's easy to compare myself to people who are doing a lot worse than I am, and of course that isn't really the point. At the same time, I also can't deny that my life is going really well, and my choices and philosophies have played a direct role in achieving that result. I'm still on a positive trajectory, and I'm the one who put myself on that trajectory. Life is good for me in large part because I chose a good path.

And I met and married the love of my life. I achieved this by arriving at a vision of what kind of person I wanted to be in an ideal state, and taking consistent steps toward that goal. In doing so, I instantly became a more attractive person to the people around me. People are hungry for positive directions, they want to be a part of a good thing. Even if they don't want to be a part of it, they want to spectate.

So, developing a dream of what kind of good person you want to be, and attempting to become that good person, is how you meet the love of your life.