Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Mother and Child Fusion (or: Mr. Bowen, meet Mr. Berne.)

You cannot quit me so quickly
There's no hope in you for me
No corner you could squeeze me
But I got all the time for you, love

The Space Between
The tears we cry
Is the laughter keeps us coming back for more
The Space Between
The wicked lies we tell
And hope to keep safe from the pain

-- Dave Matthews Band, "The Space Between", Everyday Music

Yesterday, I made the decision not to do the interview with the big company on the East Coast. My choice was grounded in the realization that the intensity of the interview process would have been too severe, given it was supposed to be only a practice experience.

On Monday, one of the recruiters with whom I had been working called me to give me a walkthrough of what would happen during the interview. He said it should take 12 minutes, but it wound up being a 37 minute call. I took over three pages of notes, covering logistics, question topics, their interviewing technique.

He said that the interview is designed to determine whether the candidate fits a target personality, namely a person with the ability to think quickly on his or her feet, explain his or her position clearly, respond readily to frequent interruption, and withstand continuous questioning of judgment.

They do this by giving you tasks that require a lot of thinking and then frequently stopping you to ask questions. They might try to cast doubt on your thought processes even if you're on the right path, just to see how you react. This goes on for about 6 - 8 hours, depending on whether they believe you are a strong candidate, and there is little room to come up for air.

On Tuesday, the recruiting firm e-mailed me a document with a list of technical questions and programming tasks that candidates were being given over the past few days. Some things I could answer, but there were a lot of areas where I had skill gaps, gaps that were large enough that I couldn't cram for them within a couple of days. Most of these questions originated from either the esoteric regions of the C++ language or from things you see only in academic computer science courses.

Being a self-taught developer who had picked up things as he needed them, there's a lot of these areas that I know about, but I haven't invested the time to learn them in depth. It was becoming clearer to me that I probably wouldn't weather the interview both on knowledge areas and temperament. The hour or two multiple choice tests that I had been taking for prospective employers were draining enough for me. Extrapolating that out to four or five times the load plus interruptions, I probably would have been a frazzled mess.

My anxiety level was pretty high coming out of the weekend, but these two exchanges cranked it up to a whole new level. After a lot of agonizing, I placed a call on late Tuesday afternoon to the recruiter and explained my position tactfully and honestly, saying that I wanted to take the interview seriously and put my best foot forward. However, I felt that I couldn't do that with the skill gaps, and I had doubts that I would be the right personality fit. I thanked them for all the help they had provided and apologized for the cancellation. I told them had I known earlier about the interviewing process, I probably would not have agreed to the in-house interview.

I've talked about the need to face my fears, so one could argue that the decision to cancel was a cop out. "You surrendered to your overactive amygdala!" you might say, pointing a finger at me.

I don't think that was so much the case here. Anxiety has its role, and it's true that a lot of times, I feel anxiety based on imagined issues. This time, I had concrete information on the process, and I knew myself well enough that it was outside my capacity.

The real question is the agonizing I went through to make the decision. The only real loss on the part of the company was airfare (an electronic ticket at that) and a canceled hotel reservation. Moreover, I probably helped protect the reputation of the recruiter by not going through a process where I had a good chance of crashing and burning. Why was it so hard for me to make the phone call to cancel?

The answer lies in a realization I had in Monday's therapy session. While most of my work is done from the Bowenian mindset (differentiation of self), my therapist likes to put things in perspective by using ideas from Transactional Analysis, namely the parent and the child ego states.

My parent ego state is in the image of my mother, someone who lavished love based on my achievements and how they reflected upon her. When I did well in school, it made her look like a good mother, although she was largely an absentee figure in my upbringing. The praise that I got from her motivated me and became the cornerstone of my sense of validation. Isolation from my peers reinforced this bond to the point where it was nearly impossible for me to rebel openly against her.

Under that warped mental model, I managed to do pretty well academically up through my college years. The implicit fear was that if I failed to meet her expectations, she would withdraw, thereby completing her abandonment of me. To the child ego state, abandonment = death, so that means doing nothing to bring it about.

How does this relate back to what I'm going through now? The Achieve to Gain Approval model propelled me for a long time, so it is something my mind adopts when a large task comes along. I unconsciously attach to this task a person whose favor will be curried by its successful completion, and anything short of that is not an option. In this case, the recruiter filled this role quite nicely. I was no longer doing this interview for my benefit. I was doing it to make the recruiter look good.

It is quite plausible that the anxiety I was feeling was caused by the inner struggle between the child ego state and the parent ego state. The sensible adult, me in the present, was caught in the crossfire. A doodle I made during that therapy session depicts it pretty well.

The critical parent is on the left, the distressed child is on the right. I'm trapped in a box somewhere in between.

When I started therapy, I set a goal of increasing my differentiation of self, especially with my wife and relatives. This week I realized that the biggest fusion battle may not be going on with others; it's the one going on in my mind, between mother and child.

Once I was able understand that the indecision stemmed from this battle, I was able to calm down and call the recruiter to carry out the cancellation. And in reality, it turned out okay. No guilt or shaming from the recruiter... just thanks for my honesty. I was seeing alignment between who I was and what I was actually doing... I was taking a step closer to integrity.

My path to self validation requires that I get rid of the Achieve to Gain Approval model. In other words, I have to stop turning people into my mother.

Friday, January 26, 2007

...And Then There Were Three

Well there's nothing you can do when you're next in line
You've got to go domino.

Do you know what you have done?
Do you know what you've begun?

-- Genesis, "The Last Domino", Invisible Touch

A couple days ago, the other full-time developer at my workplace told me he had an offer on the table from another development shop in town. Today, he decided that he would inform the CTO of his intent to accept the offer and give a letter of resignation to him. The CEO was out of town most of this week, and the CTO would be gone all next week, so this was going to be as good a time as any. After the two had the discussion, my coworker said that it had gone better than he had anticipated.

His pending departure means that in a little under two weeks, I will be the sole non-founder employee left. I am also the only full-time developer. The CTO codes some, but he is also committed to things like standards group meetings, sales pitches, and some other busy work. There was no overlap in coding responsibilities, so they will probably have to hire a new guy to take over what is left behind.

What pushed my coworker over the edge? Both of us had grown increasingly nervous about the company's cloudy future over the past four or five months, so there was some buildup. He said that the writing on the wall became clear when I eked out some more information from the CTO earlier in the week.

During an ad hoc status meeting, the CTO noted that he and the CEO had been working on a revision to a proposal for a grant they had been pursuing. I asked for clarification on what that meant. He said the proposal had been given to a technical specialist to review the merits of the plan, and the specialist wanted some more information.

I then brought up the other money source they had been chasing, which was a venture capital fund. I asked whether we had heard anything about that effort. He said the organization had made an offer, but they turned it down because they thought the VCs wanted too much equity for the amount of money they were fronting.

After the CTO talked about his plans to be gone all next week on a trip out West, I asked what was on the agenda. He mentioned two existing clients, one of which is a very small revenue stream. He then noted that a licensing deal, which had put us through a rather stressful crunch in December, had gone cold for the present. The prospective customer had just been bought out by another company, and he speculated that merger activities had put such deal on hold.

Then there was a passing remark about some additional investment sources out East that they were wooing, but he didn't elaborate.

So, one source was still in the works, but probably months away. Another source had been rejected. The third was lost in limbo. We had received a check from the small revenue stream company, but it probably would cover payroll for maybe a month or two.

I was thinking back to the changes in personnel that have happened in the 14 months that I've been here. When I hired on, the company had eight full-time employees, four of whom were founding members. Three were developers, and one was an office manager. After my coworker leaves, we will have seen a 62.5% reduction in force in a little under one year's time.

In the silence and darkness of my home, I sit here wondering what I should do. Monday should prove to be very interesting, because our CEO will have returned from her trip. Will they try to goad me into assaulting the Java GUI learning curve? Will they decide to hire someone new? Will they just mothball the whole operation and regroup for a later day? Do I want to stay around and find out?

I survived the first phone interview with big software company in the Northwest. A second employee has e-mailed me to schedule the next round. I found a blog on the company's website about their hiring system, and it provided some clues about how their recruiting process works.

Late this afternoon I had a useful conversation with a local recruiter with whom I had been playing phone tag over the week. It turns out the position he had in mind for me "disappeared" quickly. We went over my resume, and he said that I needed to insert explicit references to the tools I had been using in my work rather than putting that at the end. The reason, he said, was that recruiters tend to focus in on vendor products that you have experience with (e.g. have you used the API for interfacing with database X or charting component toolkit made by vendor Y).

I said that in dealing with other recruiters who work in this metro area, I was beginning to realize this high reliance on brand name knowledge. Not a lot of original software development goes on in this town. Most of it is geared toward system integration tasks or gluing together off the shelf components. If you don't know a database vendor's API and either .NET or Java 2 EE, you aren't going to find a lot of jobs around here.

I acknowledged that I was reaching a critical point. Either I needed to retool my skills to pick up some of these high-demand technologies, or I needed to relocate to an area where creative software development is done. I said that my resume was generating a lot more demand from places out East and West than here. He said that's not surprising, adding that a U.S. national with good problem solving skills and solid C++ knowledge would be well received in other parts of the country.

He recommended that I make my choice based on what I would enjoy doing, because even if I retooled to stay local, I might hate the jobs.

The professional two-choice dilemma becomes ever so starker, and it interlocks with my personal two-choice dilemma, because my wife has already expressed an unwillingness to relocate far away.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

I am Not the Next American Idol

A recurring theme on this blog is self validation and the resulting need to lessen the dependency on validation from others, also known as the reflected sense of self.

Job hunting is one of those perfect testing grounds for self validation. You run into it when you choose to apply. You run into it when the interviewer fires off questions that put you on the spot. You really get tested when you're faced with rejection.

This morning, I found out that I was out of the running for the job for which I took the multiple multiple choice exam last week. I had a gut feeling that this was the case when I didn't receive a followup call from the recruiter and he didn't respond to a followup e-mail. I connected with him today via phone, and he told me that they were looking for someone in the 90th percentile or better. I told him that I understood their selectivity and thanked him for the opportunity.

For about 10 - 15 minutes after the call, I had to struggle getting a hold of myself mentally. The old mental track that plays when I run into big disappointments was flipping on, and the feelings of inadequacy and anxiety were beginning to bubble up. These were things I didn't need to have going into a phone interview this evening and an all-day on site interview next week. In the past, the only way I could counteract this spiral was to rationalize that the potential employer was using the wrong criteria to make their decisions.

I then recalled Julia Grey's writings on heroism.
The Heroic You is defined from within, by examining your own reality, not by comparison to other people.

So you don't say to yourself, "I'm okay because other people are worse." But you also don't say, "I'm terrible because other people are so much better."

I realized that I needed to stop playing the "I'm so unqualified" and "Those who don't validate me are idiots" tapes. These are not the ways of a hero. They are the actions of an American Idol reject.

And with that, I put the mirror down and move on.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

I Feel Faint...

Daddy only stares into the distance
There's only so much more that he can take

-- The Police, "Synchronicity II", Synchronicity

When it rains, it pours, as they say.

On Monday, the recruiter representing the big company on the East Coast called me saying that her client wants me to come in for a face-to-face interview.

I'm supposed to get two phone calls this week from big company on the West Coast.

Long shot company, to whom I applied on Saturday night, replied on Sunday night with a request for best times to call me.

I'm getting stressed out by these developments, and self soothing has been more difficult of late. I really don't want to move, but I'm looking at this struggle on the personal and professional fronts as an opportunity to confront some fears that have kept me from making changes in my life. The dilemmas they present force me to ask myself what I really want.

Spent some time talking about all of this with the therapist on our regular Monday appointment. She said that I should at least take them up on the interviews for the experience, especially if the companies are large enough to afford the cost of things like flying me to different locations.

We talked about why I might be reacting this way. We took a look at the wounded side of me, the source from which my anxiety flows. This is the part of me that avoids taking risks because I fear that I might fail. It is the part that worries that change may entrap me in a bad situation.

It is the little boy in me, screaming that the dissolving self from which he drew security is abandoning him. The new self is more of an adult, more grounded, and more capable of caring for him, but the boy is as unpersuaded as he is unnerved. The new self says lovingly to the boy that he is far more resilient than he realizes. As surreal as that scene seems, it is very real to me. I felt tears form as I reflected on it. It was the first time in 14 therapy sessions that I needed Kleenex.

As we finished off our session, my therapist recommended some ways to stay grounded and to keep my mind from wandering into the what-ifs. I need to keep the best in me in control.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Job Application as an Act of Self Validation

Posting has been less frequent this week because of job hunting. The recruiter leads continue to come in at a pretty good pace. The current count is just south of 40.

I've done some initial phone screens, taken some programming tests, and actually talked to technical staff in a couple of instances. The discussions have been mostly upbeat. I am definitely more in my groove when they ask me specifics of what I've worked on. The interviews that really have grated on my nerves are the ones that try to find out how well you have memorized the ISO C++ standard or the Standard Template Library.

Regardless, it give me lots of opportunities to practice self soothing. Rather than worrying about whether I'm doing everything I can to impress the interviewer, I'm being honest about what I do know and where I may need to learn more. I'm also realizing how the types of questions that an interviewer asks give me cues about whether I'd even want to work with that employer. I feel good when I sense the exchange has gone well, but I don't let my spirits sink when it hasn't.

A surprise arrived in my e-mail inbox on Friday evening. I got a message from a very large software development company out in the Pacific Northwest. This time, it wasn't a recruiter claiming to fill contract positions with the company. It was a bona fide employee looking to fill a full-time spot. The full headers of the e-mail vouched that it originated from the belly of the Beast itself.

Taking the position if it was offered seems improbable at this point, but it was a stroke to the ego to appear on their radar screen. How big of a boost, you might ask? Big enough to motivate me to put my name in with another big company which just happens to own this blog's hosting service. And since they've got spots in several places around the country, I wouldn't have to go coastal.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Not Likely to be a Meme Anytime Soon...

What kind of C++ programmer are you? You can see what some testing service thinks of me.[1]

This was by far the most pernicious of the automated exams I've taken because it was one of those multiple choice exams where there may be more than one right choice.

The weakness in STL wasn't a surprise because one of my jobs barred the use of this library in its own code, and to do anything with it, I have to keep a reference guide handy.

I can understand the file handling issue as well, because I'm still inclined to use the old C standard library routines for I/O when I need to code something up quick and dirty.

But inheritance? That's the bread and butter of object oriented programming. I have no idea how they scored me that low.

[1] -- I don't think the test's licensing agreement bars the screen capture of the results, only test content itself, so it should be okay to show.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Mid Career Creative Class Blues

Since the updated resumes went up on the four job boards a week ago, I have received leads from 29 prospective employers or recruiters.

Of those leads, only two are in my current city of residence. They are for positions that are very Microsoft .NET centric environments. The recruiters have been really big on wanting several years of prior C# experience. The willingness to learn new technologies doesn't seem to sway them. That's not surprising, though, because neither recruiter seemed to be able to interpret a resume other than by keyword matches.

I have now received five leads for finance software development positions in the Big Apple. Two of them are separate recruiters claiming to represent the same big customer. I've been going through the steps of applying with one of the recruiters for the interview practice and the potential for a free trip. It's improbable that I'd take the offer, but it'd be one hell of an ego boost to get an offer letter from them. I'll chalk it up to midlife crisis. ;-)

One was a lead for a 6 month contract in Redmond, WA, debugging the MacOS version of Microsoft Office (shudders).

Another was a permanent C++/Unix/database job in Conway, AR (double shudders).

Coolest sounding one has been a software engineering job for a DNA sequencing company, but it's way out east.

I put in my name with a local job that involves C# .NET, but requires a scientific background. The downside is that the job is a 3 month+ contract.

I have taken two online standardized programming language tests. I have another one supposedly coming down the pike.

I have taken three phone tests of varying duration. The first was a simple fill-in-the blank quiz that was done in 10 minutes. The second was about 20 minutes that covered C++, UNIX, and software engineering. The last one ran over an hour, a true/false quiz on C++, UNIX, IEEE arithmetic, and algorithms, with justifications.

I have filled out two good sized written questionnaires on my backgrounds that are supplements to my resume.

I could use a drink right now.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Good Essay on Validation

I was doing a search on the subject of self validation and stumbled upon a helpful essay by a psychology professor named F. Ishu Ishiyama. I found a few of the paragraphs to be very helpful in clarifying what my therapist was talking about with respect to spiritual problems.

As we go through personal developmental changes, our intimacy need is also changed from a sheer need for protection and approval to the need for being fully understood and connected emotionally and spiritually. When the people very close to us fail to meet such a higher need, we experience the lack of spiritual self-validation. Sometimes we exaggerate minor incidents through selective perception and self-critical reasoning into crisis situations, and fail to value our self-worth and competence.

Various psychological processes take place when we are in these situations. We feel denied access to the right to be and the right to feel at such moments. We feel as if a part in us is slowly dying in pain. We start doubting our self-worth, and losing confidence and self-respect. Our self-identity gets shaken, and we become unsure of who we are and what we are. We lose sight of the meaning of life and become hopeless and directionless.

Needless to say, these are sometimes so unbearable and threatening that we use defenses and shut off the painful feelings and self-awareness to protect our fragile and shaky ego from the final despair. However, we eventually need to face the self-invalidating situation or lifestyle and confront ourselves with the task of restoring inner harmony and seeking self-validating relationships and activities.

That sums up the content of this blog pretty well, doesn't it?

There's also a noteworthy snippet farther on down that echoes the work of Csikszentmihalyi:
In personal self-validation, we experience the joy of self-improvement and competence and the comfort of being in a familiar environment where we feel in control and at peace with ourselves. Such personal activities sometimes give us a timeless flow experience and a feeling of being one with nature. Through them, we validate our timeless and spiritual self.

It is exactly one month to my decision day, quite possibly the biggest test of self validation I have ever faced.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

2am Surprised as Mrs. Suggests Far Far Away Lite

One of the topics discussed on this blog over the past couple of weeks is how damaging it would be for me to move a long distance away from the kids, should I separate or divorce from my wife, especially when the kids are so young (3 1/2 years and almost 2 years respectively). I think there is strong consensus that nothing good could come from the "Move Far Far Away" scenario.

What follows is not an attempt to justify that scenario under any circumstance. It is instead an exploration of the euphemisms that another commenter wrote about back in December.

Set the TiVO of life to yesterday evening, just before dinner. My wife asks me whether my resume postings from early Wednesday morning have netted any nibbles. I tell her that it's been frustrating because out of 10 or so recruiter e-mails and phone calls, I've only gotten one local job lead.

I then tell her about some of those leads. One was a contract position for a year out in Colorado, being pushed by some guy whose command of the English language was in serious question.

Two were from manufacturers of electronic gambling systems, like slot machines and poker consoles. Given her love of playing the video slots, I knew that would pique her curiosity.

Two of the leads included development positions with a big organization in a really big city out East. I said the salary ranges that they were talking were nearly double of what I was making now. Even if the salary/benefit/compensation package was as good as they said, it would mean a much higher cost of living for us, and an even unholier commute. I did a couple of phone screen interviews for one of the recruiters just for practice, and surprisingly did well on the technical questions.

Her response to my ramblings on the big job surprised me. She said, "Well, if they could work out a deal where you worked a four-day work week with longer days and three-day weekends where you could fly home, that wouldn't be so bad." I wasn't expecting that and responded with a curious, "Really?" She then said that she thought that would be better because she wouldn't want to move there. She encouraged me to keep pursuing the lead to see where it would go. In essence, she was floating the idea of a lighter version of the Far Far Away scenario.

This exchange made me think of several things in addition to the sobering thoughts discussion. One is the observation about my wife's preschool mom friend's marital situation.

Interesting side note, if you enjoy tinfoil hat speculation. The preschool mom friend is becoming a more frequent friend than her "best" friend these days, both in terms of spending time together and talking on the phone.

The big difference? The preschool mom has a husband who works as a security guard on long term contract for a client about two hours away, so he's gone most of the time.

The second was a comment made by the Drunken Housewife back in December, when she was talking about how to discuss a DADT relationship. Emphasis is mine.

I think that most spouses would not be able to discuss this so openly and rationally as my old friend and his wife and my far-out SF friends. I suspect that many spouses could live with this better if it were all done in euphemisms, so they wouldn't have to face the truth of what they were agreeing to. I hate that sort of thing myself, wishing to be honest about my actions, but most women (or maybe people in general) seem to do better in a state of denial. Something along the lines of "you know, maybe we could agree that I won't bother you for sex any more, and I will be just as good a husband and father as I can be, but I'll look somewhere else for some occasional companionship."

Maybe this is her way of saying something like this?
I'm not that into you, but I don't want to give up the financial security you give me, so I'd be willing to do without you for most of the week as long as you brought home a much bigger slab of bacon and give me a nice break from the kids over the weekend.

In essence, it would be a "divorce with joint custody in denial". And she'd still get to keep health insurance to boot.

Whether this is an accurate assessment remains unclear. It might be the product of an overactive imagination. Even if it is with her blessing, that doesn't necessarily make it the best thing for the kids or me, for that matter.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

I'd Better Think...

As if I needed a reminder about how insane it would be to make a run for the coasts, comes forth a gem of a comment on a Slashdot posting about Google employees moving on. Read the whole thing.

UPDATE (1/11/2007, 12:39 p.m.): Okay, this comment thread is amusing in its own way, too.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Temperatures Cold, Relationship Colder

It was not a fun night at our residence last night. The furnace burner developed problems, leaving us without heat until the morning. It was in the low 20s outside, with windchills in the teens.

I stayed up a couple hours beyond my normal bedtime to watch the thermostat to make sure that it didn't plummet too close to 60 oF. I updated resumes on the major job boards. By 2:30 a.m., the temperature had sunk down to 62 oF, so at my wife's request, I made a run to the Wal-Hell nearby to acquire a ceramic space heater.

After I got back, my wife said she was worried about me because I looked angry. Indeed I was because I knew that this was not going to be a cheap repair bill, and we didn't have the cash on hand to pay it.

I told her that I felt like I was hanging by the last thread. She said, "Let me be part of the solution." I said that now wasn't a good time to talk about it, but I said I felt that the money situation made it difficult for me to put my trust in her. I said that some missed payments on our car insurance and a couple phone calls from creditors said to me that she hadn't reformed her spending habits. She downplayed one of the phone calls saying that the payment was overdue by only one day, but I didn't have any way of verifying that.

She said that I was probably right in that it wasn't a good time to talk about it. Then she said she was getting a headache and held back tears.

By the time I got the space heater set up, our older daughter had awakened. We moved her into our bedroom where the space heater was, and she slept with my wife. I slept on the couch in the living room. The young'un didn't want to sleep, so neither did my wife or myself because I could hear the whining. The lack of sleep made my wife decide not to take her to preschool.

As it neared 8 a.m., I arranged for the heating repair service to stop by. The service technician diagnosed it as a failed safety switch. The furnace needed a cleaning as well. Fortunately, I was able to get both repair and cleaning done for about $50 cheaper by signing up for their heating/air conditioning plan. The total came to about $330. It would have cost $380 to have the work done a la carte.

We had to wait a couple more hours for the tech to run out to his office for the new part. Once he got back, he did the repair and servicing, wrapping things up shortly before 11 a.m. The house temperatures are back to normal.

When the time came to pay, I asked my wife if we should pay for the repair work using her Discover card (yes the one she had the $5,400 balance on). She said that we should. I asked her what the balance on it was. She said around $6,000. She then got defensive, saying that she hadn't been using it on frivolous stuff and had only spent a couple hundred dollars.

I said that increment was less than the difference between the current balance and the amount that it was back in October when we had the talk (a couple hundred dollars < $600). She stuck to her claims, saying that she had only charged on that card when "we were low on money to get things like food."

I told her calmly, yet firmly, that regarding last night's conflict, I was no longer going to negate or bottle up my emotions because they made her uncomfortable. She said she wasn't uncomfortable with them. I then clarified that by "uncomfortable", I meant her crying or saying she was getting a headache.

She tried to shift the discussion to put me on the defensive, saying that it was the first time since that talk that I had said anything about money. That was false because she had talked to me about bill payment priorities, about budgeting for Christmas, and I asked routinely what the status was on our accounts. I wasn't going to fight that reality war, so I let that go.

I told my wife I was going to get ready to go to work. She said, "Well, I thought you would want to stay home because you didn't get enough sleep last night." Rather than try to parse for any agenda that might have been embedded in that statement (e.g. I want you to stay home and watch the kids so I can nap all afternoon), I stuck with my plan. She said she thought she could get one of the other preschool moms to help give her a break.

Emotionally, things are really out of synch between us right now, but amid all this anger there is some perspective, and the full impact didn't hit me until I was driving to work.

As the service technician was preparing the receipts, we talked about the cold temperatures, and he said that he had to lose five pounds soon. He was going back to Iraq soon. It was going to be his third tour. The first was back in the early 90s with Desert Storm and the second was in Baghdad with the current war.

I thought back earlier, when he had seen my daughters playing together, he was telling me about his boys, all in the adolescent years. It made my quarrels with my wife look small and my occasional thoughts of moving away seem juvenile.

I hope that he returns safely.

Monday, January 08, 2007

One Way or the Other

The prior post and the comments that have been added to it reminded me of the "Being the Hero of Your Own Life" essay to which I link on the sidebar. I think that two paragraphs from the essay are worth noting (emphasis mine).
When you first start thinking in this new groove, of your new self, emotionally independent of others' opinions or demands, it will be tempting to believe that you can chuck realities you don't want to face and dismiss responsibilities that you think are interfering with your ability to Be All You Can Be. But the inconvenient thing about being a hero is that they always fulfill their commitments in life, one way or the other. Dealing with their their personal demons and their tough situations -- in a forthright, proactive way (not just suffering through them) -- is what MAKES them heroes.

Heroism starts within you. It's not a product of your situation, your opportunities, or the people you have to deal with. It's inner strength and quiet assurance without any taint of "Look how much I saaaacrifice! Look how much I suuuuffer!" Wanting people to notice how good you are, demanding to be admired or rewarded because you're Such A Nice Guy (or having tantrums to make sure they know you're baaaad) are some of the ways you enslave yourself to them.

I don't think that the Drunken Housewife is arguing against divorce in an absolute sense (correct me if I'm wrong). She's concerned about whether my post divorce choices might entail reneging on the commitment (first paragraph of quotation) I have to my kids. Clearly taking a job a long distance from here would not help.

I still file the long distance job scenario under "insanely desperate" for that reason. Taking a long distance temporary contract doesn't seem as insane in the event that my employer goes belly up, though, because the elevated pay (1 1/2 to 2 times what I make now) would help to pay down debts.

Elise and sassy also have valid points. If the home situation were to continue unchanged for years to follow, my daughters would grow up with the notion that a husband is more of a life accessory than a life partner. Staying in this relationship as is would be a continuing exercise in martyrdom (second paragraph of quotation).

It has taken me a long time to believe this: If am mature about this, I can leave the marriage and fulfill my commitments to my daughters. It will have to be via "the other" rather than "one way".

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Sobering Thoughts from the Drunken Housewife

The Drunken Housewife writes in a comment:
I am just worried about the children in the event of a divorce. 2AM, you're talking about expanding your job search to the coasts, and that would mean little face time with your kids, who are still very small. I can't be happy about that. Children are young for a short time (it's scary almost to me how fast mine are growing up), and they need a lot.

Having said that, your wife sounds selfish and like a poor spouse. Here I refer more to her monetary habits than anything else. As for the sex, there's something deeply wrong there (viz. the vomiting during heavy petting), and it's beyond your abilities or those of your reader/voyeurs to fix.

It's a terrible situation. I'm sorry you got into it to begin with, but now the children exist and need to be considered.

(Incidentally I am an ENTJ).

You are absolutely right about the kids. You're not the only one who has confronted me with this.

As I talked about the ideas in the Self Dissolution post with my therapist this past Wednesday, she reminded me that moving too far away would reduce my ability to be an involved dad. She recommended that I read The Good Divorce to educate myself, should I decide that divorce is my choice.

My conscience admonishes me several times a day, too, like when I am snuggling with the kids or giving them a bath. This weekend, we were preparing a routine batch of pictures to send to our adoption agency, who forwards them to the birth mom of our older daughter. You can't imagine how the guilt flowed through my veins as I wrote the update letter to the birth mom.

I am trying to avoid a rush to decide, while at the same time trying not to wallow in indecision. It hurts.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

A Light Bulb Goes On

Tom writes in a recent comment:
That is, I thought that my own marriage was hopeless a few years ago - so much so that I moved out. However, after almost a year, my wife had to give a lot of thought as to whether or not she could or would change. However, until I opened up more specifically about what I wanted, she couldn't really begin to decide if it would be worth the effort.

For some reason, it finally registered with me what you were saying in your prior posts. Maybe it's the wording, I don't know. I'm just glad I'm getting some clarity.

I have tried to tell my wife what I want: a meaningful, involved, and intimate sexual dimension in our marriage. I've even tried to describe precisely what that is and is not. In the past she has invalidated that desire. She wrote if off to insecurity, which angered me (fusion). I've had to look at myself to see what I really wanted. In the process, I realize that it's more than sex that I am unhappy about. Our sex life is but one manifestation of the dysfunction of our relationship.

As with your situation, I am probably going to have to test the waters of divorce to make it clear how important this is to me. From what I've read, fused couples usually take it to the edge of the cliff because their tolerance for pain in the quest for avoiding anxiety. Having said that, I have to be prepared for the possibility that she will not confront herself even in the face of that extremity.

Let me ask a followup question, Tom. When your wife finally decided that she wanted to work on the marriage, did you have trouble trusting her sincerity? How did you deal with that?

Whither Analysis?

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say "I love you" right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I've looked at life that way

But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I've changed
Well something's lost, but something's gained
In living every day

I've looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all

-- Joni Mitchell, "Both Sides Now" [1], Miles of Aisles

Cat joins in on the discussion:
I am dizzy from so much analysis. I am sure I will be the ditz in the room but I need to understand something. After all the work, the therapist, the charts...2am are you saying that you are not any closer to having the marriage you want?

I hate to agree with someone in a comment trail on a subject so important. But I have to agree with Sassy. The divide does sound next to impassable.

It just astounds me for you to spend so much of your life unhappy. Investing so much work in a relationship you can't get what you need from. When do you get to have what you need? I mean life isn't forever (forgive the cliche but seriously)...

Good question. The driving force behind the analysis in this blog is my nature (I'm an INTJ). I get fulfillment from wrapping my mind around complicated ideas and searching for deeper truths. Some might argue that it can be a pathological desire at times. ;-)

When I started this blog, I was very much in the mindset that my wife was the one who needed fixing. I started from the assumption that my wife was abnormal and if I could just get her to see the light and realize just how much I was angry and hurting, she'd change.

Something happened along the way...

The first thing was a bunch of negative feedback from women who had read my venting on PForum and on this blog. As much as they irritated me at the time, I started to see the merit in what they were trying to get through to me.

Second, I started reading some books and essays that changed the way I looked at relationships. Links to the author's websites can be found in the blog's sidebar.

The combined effect of these things made me realize that I needed to back off on my wife and work on myself. I had to let go of the goal of "frequent engaged sex" and pursue the goal of self growth. Moreover, I had to be willing to risk losing the marriage if I wanted to achieve a deeper level of intimacy.

I started self confronting, and when I wasn't able to push myself through by myself, I turned to the help of an individual therapist who knew something about the kind of therapy route I was taking.

In the process, I am getting a better sense of how I got here and where I want to go. If I didn't do the analysis, I would run the risk of jumping from an unhappy marriage to unhappy singlehood or perhaps another unsatisfying relationship.

That's especially important because I went through most of my life trying avoid the appearance of having needs and then expecting others to take care of them. As I learn who I am, the path that will fulfill my needs will become clearer. That is where I really want to go.

[1] -- The song better known from its rendition by Judy Collins on Wildflowers.

The Dialogue with Tom Allen Continues...

For those of you following the conversation, I've posted a reply to a portion of Tom's latest comment.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Outing of Self and Clashing Libidoism

In this post, we'll cover some comments made by Tom Allen.

In reply to "Eros Shrugged", Tom writes:
2am, did you ever hear the expression "When all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail."?

And again, I'm not trying to insult you. In fact, the more of your backstory I read, the more similarities I see with my own marriage and approach to handling things. We had a similar issue with finances. We've had similar issues with clashing libidos. We've had similar issues with her seeming to be more concerned with her family or friends than with me.

And like you, I went to a dozen different web boards to complain... I mean, look for ideas. And I would take an analytical approach in order to justify my getting upset over things. For example, I didn't do the spending graph, but I did do a large spreadsheet for her. And we spent way too much time nitpicking the little details. Etc.

I don't know how much actual good it all did, but at least I had some emotional support.

Counseling did little for me, partly because I had a difficult time with the one we saw - he seemed pretty clueless about sexuality. Or rather, about non-vanilla sexuality. Disappointment with his approach led me to pull myself up by my own bootstraps and pursue my own course. That was when I decided to just start "outing" myself.

Yes, I have heard the old saying about the hammer and the nail. :-)

I don't take your postings as insulting, but I think I'm having trouble fully understanding what you're saying above. The questions I pose now are for clarification, not dissent. Correct me if I'm wrong.

You note similarities in our paths (analyzing the situation, seeking support from online forums, spousal dialogues, and counseling). Am I right in saying that you found all of these things, not just the counseling, to be of limited help to you?

Then at some point you decided that you would bite the bullet and just make full disclosure to your wife with the belief that she would not walk away from the relationship because there was such a large time and energy commitment to it.

Turning now to my situation. What would be the analog of outing myself to her? Would it be the ambivalence that I am having with regards to the marriage itself?

Likewise, if you're looking to "push" your wife oward her own growth cycle, then ask yourself if that's not violating her integrity as well.

This is a good question. The use of the word "push" might be a misstatement on my part because it sounds like an attempt to control her.

Schnarch talks about interlocking growth cycles. If one spouse goes into his growth cycle, the other goes into hers. It's kind of like Newton's third law of motion (every action has an equal opposite reaction), but it's not guaranteed. He leaves open the possibility that the other spouse might choose to terminate the relationship instead.

Given what I've observed over the past several months, I am beginning to believe that she will not enter the growth cycle. She will say things to give the indication she might be self confronting, but she doesn't follow through. My therapist is expressing skepticism that my wife is willing to take those steps.

If that is the case, then you defintely have a point. In other words, the growth cycle may well be a violation of her integrity.

Turning toward Tom's comment from "Same as it Ever Was":
2am, do you have any insight as to why you overlooked some of the warning signs of clashing libido-ism?

I have some insights.

The idea that two people could have terminally mismatched libidos is a new one to me, having really sunk in only within the past year or so.

Prior to that, I have operated under a mixture of rationalizations of varying degrees of delusion.

  1. I always thought of libido as something that is dynamic, that could evolve over time.

  2. If I only did enough good things for my wife to make her happy, she would find me sexually desirable or at least try to make me happy. This would be an example of a covert contract in the Nice Guy Syndrome school of thought.

  3. Sexual desire could be rekindled through good communication and a romantic touch. This would be another covert contract that is typically endorsed through conventional therapy.

  4. At various emotionally difficult times in our relationship, I gave my wife a pass for having low desire. Examples include when she was going through the shock of learning about my phone sex calls, when she was angry at me for not wanting to have children, when she was impatient with me as I worked on my parental anxiety in counseling, when we were having trouble conceiving, the close succession of several deaths in the family, and the stresses of taking care of newborns.

  5. I held out the belief that her libido might begin take off as she moved into her 30s (the so-called female sexual prime).

The idea that low libido might be a terminal situation first occurred to me when I posted to a divorce support bulletin board over a year ago. One of the moderators raked me over the coals saying that it was my fault for having married someone whom I should have known was sexually incompatible with me.

Administrative Notes and a Thought from Therapy

In the sidebar on the right, I've added a link for sending e-mail directly to me, in case you wish to leave a private comment.

Also worth noting are the links for RSS and Atom feeds further on down. They simplify the process of tracking updates for this blog. Recent releases of both Firefox and Internet Explorer support reading these feeds.

You will also find links to blogs that either link to this website or whose authors have left comments in this space. The points of view are diverse, but I have respect for all of them.

A response for Tom Allen's recent comments should be up the next day or so.

I don't have a lot to say today, so I'll give you a topic to talk amongst yourselves...

Today my therapist said that one of her marriage & family therapist colleagues believes the following:
When a patient comes in saying that he or she has a problem with sex in a marriage, it really refers to a spiritual problem, and when the complaint is that there is a spiritual problem, it's really about sex.