Why I Run

It took some effort to pull my front door open, it always sticks on cold mornings. That’s just one of the quirks of this weird old house. As I stepped out into the morning air my dog looked up at me from the couch with a look of confusion and disgust. “What the hell are you doing human? If you are going out there at least close the door, I don’t have thick fur.” he seemed to say.

What the hell was I doing? It was bitter cold out, autumn has overtaken summer with a vengeance and the air burns my lungs in the morning hours. My hands immediately start to curl up in search of warmth, reminding me again that I need to buy some gloves. Oh well, I can buy gloves later. Right now I’m going to run in a big circle around a park a few times with the soccer moms and retired folks.

The reasons I run are varied, and I need all of them to keep me moving. Getting out the door usually requires me to focus on the short-term benefits. Running wakes me up and suppresses my appetite to prevent snacking. It also gets the blood flowing through my body and clears my head. Running in the morning has consistently improved my  job performance and my writing, and it keeps me motivated to take care of my body and life. When I don’t run I’m more likely to spend the day on the couch with Oreos and Netflix being a sloth, but when I run in the morning I tend to get my errands done, eat fairly healthy, and get a lot of work done. This first positive action in the morning sets the tone for the day.

But those reasons really only get my out the door and to my first mental wall (usually around mile 2). I need more than that if I’m going to push past the walls and keep running. For that type of motivation, I need to focus on the long term and philosophical reasons I run.

The first reason, as cliche as it sounds, is my partner. My body is kind of a gift to her and I want to take care of it. I want to be healthy enough that our lives can be long and fun together and that means investing a little bit of time now for a big payoff later. An investment in me is an investment in us. I also really like it when my partner tells me she finds me attractive, particularly when she is specific. There is just nothing that boosts my self-esteem like when she wraps her hands around me and says “wow, I can feel your abs”. Is it superficial? Sure. Do I care? Not really. I like feeling sexy to her and myself. It is kind of cool to step out of the shower and see myself in the mirror and be happy with what I see.

The second reason is related to my partner. Well, it is at least related to our relationship. Since we have a “not completely monogamous” relationship I have opportunities to be intimate with others with my partner’s consent. I can’t really fall into the “now that we’re married she’s stuck with me so I can let my body go” trap if I want to keep having the sexual variety and experiences that I’m interested in. I realize that attracting a intimate partner (or to get people to keep sending me sexy snaps @pneiger) is more difficult if you don’t appear healthy, particularly when I can’t offer any type of romantic relationship. When I lack the ability to provide love for a future partner I need to make up for that in other ways, being fit and providing friendship is a way I can do that.

Another reason I run is kind of quasi-spiritual. I see my body as the most amazing gift I’ve ever received. I don’t think there is a god out there that gave me a body, but if there is one then it seems like I should show respect for that gift. I wouldn’t take something my mom gave me and treat it like shit, why would I do that with my body if it is a gift from a loving god? It seems pretty disrespectful to eat junk and neglect your health if your body comes from god. Anyway, I don’t really believe that, but I do think this life and body is a gift of sorts from the universe. As such, I want to treat it well and see just I can do with it. I love self-experimentation and my body is an opportunity to see what my potential really is. I want to try and run 100 miles or be physically fit enough to explore space someday. I want to try and live until the point when death becomes optional.

Running is also tied to my life philosophy of libertarianism and minimalism. I believe in personal responsibility, including self-defense. But self-defense isn’t just owning a well-maintained firearm and practicing your marksmanship because other humans are not the only danger we face. It is very unlikely that I will need to use my gun to save my life, but it is very likely that I will need a healthy heart and immune system to save my life. I exercise because I love my life and I want to increase the quality and quantity of it. Eating junk food and neglecting your health is to commit slow suicide, it is anti-life.  Life starts with the body. As for minimalism, if I want to live a life with few possessions and lots of leisure time, I need to stay healthy. Health expenses add up quickly and I need to take as much responsibility for minimizing those costs as my genetics will allow.

Like all philosophical views, this is just my ideal, one that I fail at regularly. I’m not trying to get on my pulpit and put others down (just last night I ate way too much ice cream and cookies and seriously slacked on my exercise), this is just meant to illustrate what I think about to keep my body moving when I hit walls while running.

Another source of inspiration is my nieces and nephews. I want to be alive and healthy throughout as much of their lives as I can. I want to celebrate victories with them and be there to comfort them when they are hurting. I want to provide guidance, support, and my perspective on life (if my siblings are foolish enough to let them). I’ve seen first hand with family and friends how being unhealthy can shorten the quality and quantity of your life. there are plenty of people my age (35) who can’t walk up stairs, play with their children, or travel because of their health. I want to postpone that as long as I can. I imagine this drive to be healthy and see their children grow up is even stronger in parents. I know how much I care for my nieces and nephews, but I’m sure that pales in comparison for the love parents feel. Maintaining a healthy body and being a good example seems like it would come hand-in-hand with parenting.

I don’t love running, but I don’t loathe it anymore either. It takes effort every day to get out and pound the pavement, but it is slowly getting easier and I keep finding more reasons to run. Hopefully, that continues and I’ll be in my 70’s running 8-minute miles around the park still.

 

Post-Script: I forgot one thing, I’m kind of a hedonist. I enjoy pleasurable experiences such as recreational drug use and ice cream. In order to balance the damage those experiences do to my body I need to exercise. A long life is boring if it doesn’t include pleasure.

Pressure Test

I can’t remember who it was, but I once heard a comedian tell a joke about relationships that went something like this: “Figuring out who to marry is easy. If you like someone and think you could spend your life with them then just sit down and eat some raw chicken together. Then, lock yourself in a one bathroom apartment together for the next few days. Soon there will be vomiting and explosive diarrhea everywhere. If during that terrible time, you share a single laugh with the other person then you should marry them.”

There is something valuable about pressure testing a relationship before you commit to a life* with someone. Relationships are fucking tough, but they can start our really easy. Hell, years can go by before you realize you are incompatible with someone or that they aren’t on the same path as you. If most of your experiences with a person are rosy and happy and relatively stress-free then you won’t know if you will be able to deal with the tough blows that life can send your way.

I’m not saying you should eat a raw chicken though (besides my vegan ethics, that is gross). You should probably live with someone, be around them when things are bad, and go on adventures together. You should know what the other person acts like when there is no money and no plan and when things are completely out of anyone’s control. Do you still share a laugh? Or is it constant pain? Do you turn to each other and grin because you know that as a team you can fucking conquer anything? Or do you look to the other person and feel like they are making things worse or dragging you down?

Pressure tests aren’t really about surviving a scenario, they are about enjoying it because you are with a compatible person. If pressure testing your relationship means you barely get out intact, maybe there is someone else out there that is more compatible? When I moved in with my ex-fiance (I wish I had a better title for that relationship), it brought to light a ton of things that we didn’t know before living together. Things seemed easy and rosy when we were in a long-distance relationship because every moment we spent together felt special. Living together ended the “honeymoon phase” and we realized that we weren’t compatible… we were sexually incompatible, had different views on relationships, and wanted to live different places and have different lives. All those things seemed easy to overcome when we lived apart, I think we both figured the other person would eventually “come around”, but that wasn’t the case.

Now, if we had stayed together I am sure we would have found a way to be happy(ish). The mind has an amazing way of adapting to a situation and making the most out of it or even enjoying a situation if changing things seems impossible (see: Stockholm Syndrome). Maybe I would have eventually fallen in love with Myrtle Beach, SC and enjoyed whatever shit job I found. Maybe continuing my education would have seen unnecessary and my political activism at the time felt worthless (in some senses it was, but in other’s it really helped me grow). Maybe the idea of complete monogamy with vanilla sex once a week would have eventually been enough to make me happy.

Or maybe not. Maybe I would have stuck it out for a decade or two before ending the relationship with feelings of hatred and resentment towards the person I loved, leaving me with mountains of debt and no real support network.

I’m glad I’ll never know. I’m glad that my relationship went through a pressure test that we failed. It would have been worse if we survived but didn’t end up stronger because of it. Anna and I have had lots of pressure tests. Biking around a country with someone for two years and living in a tent with them brings out stress. Not knowing where you are sleeping each night or how you will find a coffee shop to get work done can cause friction. Being within 15 feet of someone for years at a time eliminates the honeymoon phase pretty quickly. And now we are facing a new pressure test, living in a stable home and dealing with all the issues that come from that. But, despite the pressure, we’ve come out stronger and filled laughter and genuine love for each other.

If a relationship isn’t making you stronger then it might better to end it. If incompatibilities exist (or develop… we are all changing people) that is something to be taken seriously now and not pushed to the side with the hopes they will resolve themselves. It sucks when things end, but it is better to turn around when you see a dead end than to drive over a cliff just because you’ve committed yourself to that road for so long.

*I actually think committing your life to someone is foolish. We all change and grow through our life and it is impossible to commit to loving someone when you don’t know who they will be or who you will be down the road. Anna and I certainly hope that we remain compatible and loving for a long time, maybe even life, but we aren’t committed to making a relationship last until death if we aren’t happy in it. A successful relationship isn’t one where it lasts until someone dies, a successful relationship is one where both parties build each other up and are reasonable enough to end it if that is no longer the case.

Removing my Self

When I started my mediation app today I realized that the app’s motto is “Treat Your Head Right”. This got me thinking… which isn’t a great way to start my meditation, but whatever. I find it beneficial to remove the “self” from my body and mind. If I see my mind and body as something I love, but separate from my being then I am more comfortable and motivated to adopt healthy behaviors.

Instead of seeing it as “my mind” I see it as a close friend. If my best friend told me that in order for him to reach his full potential he needed me to spend ten minutes a day doing something that was mildly uncomfortable or difficult I would gladly do it because I love him, and I know he would do the same for me. If I think of my mind and body along those lines it makes it easier for me to prioritize much more than ten minutes… hell, dedicating one hour to training my mind (meditation, learning a foreign language, reading, writing, solving puzzles, etc) and one hour a day to physical activity is an easy price to pay for my best friend.

It is even better than that though, because by helping my best friend become the best they can be I get to reap many of the benefits. It is a win-win for me, I get to feel good because I helped a friend out, and I get mentally and physically stronger.

This view of the mind and body as separate from the self probably won’t work for many people. I’m sure many people are more responsive to viewing at as a strict cost/benefit analysis (if I dedicate one hour today that will give me greater than one hours worth of value at some time in the future), but for me it helps to remove the ego from the act. My mind and body should be my two best friends and I should treat them as such. I wouldn’t poison my human best friend, I wouldn’t work towards them being turning into a mental or physical sloth, I don’t want them to have a shorter, unhealthy life… and I should do those things to my body or mind.

I love my body and mind, they are pretty kick ass, and I should treat them like I love them.

Passion and Partnership

I love my partner, but I have never had some sort of earth-shattering passion for her. We had the normal “new relationship energy” when we met, but our relationship developed along unconventional grounds. We were a one-night stand and then we didn’t see each other for about three months because I was on a cross-country bike ride. We texted (and probably sexted) a bit, but there was nothing particularly emotional about it. When I arrived in Los Angeles, the city she had recently moved to, we became friends with benefits but both still dated other people. Eventually, over time, we realized that we had a lot of important things in common and our relationship grew into what we are today.

I’ve had strong passion for people in the past (particularly when I was a teenager and in my early 20’s), but those relationships were almost always bad ones. The passion and fire to be with a person blinded me to how incompatible we were and how abusive the relationship was. Passion is often illogical and it prevents us from making decisions that are good for us. I think we all have said at some point in our life (or know someone who has said), “I know we aren’t good together but I love them so much!” or “I know this can’t work long term but I love them!” or “I know they don’t treat me well but I love them!”. If the only thing that is keeping two (or more) people together is a passionate love then that relationship should probably end. Passion is the worst reason to stay with a person.

My partner may have more passion for me than I do for her, but that would be okay. There is nothing about a relationship that needs to be a 100% equal exchange. In fact, it is probably dangerous to shoot for that or to “keep score”. If both people are happy and getting what they need then the actual acts are unimportant, there can be an inequality in the number of times someone washes the dishes, says I love you, gives oral sex, buys gifts, feels passion, etc., as long as everyone is feeling satisfied and can communicate their desires.

So, I don’t have that passion that poets speak of for my wife, but I do love her. I miss her when she is gone. I long to spend my life with her. Our relationship is based on many things (including love), it is based on our compatibility now and in the future. We have similar life philosophies that naturally revolve around a mixture of stoicism and minimalism. Neither of us want kids and we both want to travel a lot in our lives. We would like to experience new things, live a variety of places, enjoy recreational drugs, and only work when it is necessary. We have similar views on non-monogamy and what defines “cheating”. We both want to grow as individuals, as well as partners, and we support each other in our pursuit of things that may not interest the other person.

We also both realize that there may come a day when this partnership is no longer good for us. Hopefully, we will grow and change over time, bit that means there is the risk that we will grow apart and become less compressible. We both agree it would be better to end it and remain friends instead of dragging it out in the name of “love” or because we spent so much time together (sunk costs are everywhere).

I feel like she is my first true partner. She isn’t just my spouse, which is a title that can be given to anyone with the proper court documentation, whether the people like each other or hate each other, whether they are truly compatible long term or not.  My partner is someone who helps me become a better person, and I work to help her become a better person. Neither of us is a crutch for the other person, instead we accomplish things as a partnership that we couldn’t do alone. We are both “in good working order”, as Dan Savage would say, and we aren’t dependent on the other person for emotional, physical, or financial health. We could survive (and thrive) without each other, we just don’t want to right now.

So, I have a hard time relating to the poets or people who say things like “marry the person you feel an intense burning in your soul for” (I don’t know if that is an actual quote but I’m pretty sure I heard something like that somewhere). That type of fire is a fickle beast, it can burn out during a rain storm or it can rage out of control and devastate everything in its path. Human relationships should have a foundation that is more stable than passion, especially partnerships you hope will last a lifetime

Relationships

It is hard to know the right thing to do. Within any decision there are competing forces that make appropriate decision making difficult. Generally, we want our decisions to be logical. But we also want decisions to be made by people who are closest to the issue, local knowledge is king. Unfortunately, the closer you are to an issue the less likely you are going to be able to view the issue through an objective lens. This is particularly true within a family or a relationship.

Generally, we think that parents know best what is for their kids, or people who are dating can most accurately measure the health of that relationship (as opposed to someone on the outside). In fact, we have strong cultural norms against providing advice to parents or dating couples unless explicitly asked, even if the relationship seems incredibly unhealthy or dangerous. When it comes to child rearing the response is particularly strong if you don’t have children but try to make recommendations to parents. It is often you will hear things like “You don’t have kids so you don’t understand”. While that may be true, it could also accurately be said “Because they are your kids you aren’t seeing the situation clearly”. Though, I would expect to be slapped or blocked on Facebook if I said that latter phrase.

The truth is, sometimes we our knowledge is “too local”. We are so close to the situation and our view blinded by love for a person that we can’t see that things aren’t healthy. We need people on the outside who can be more objective and give us straight answers. In short, we need therapists. A therapist is someone that you can share the details of your situation with but who is outside of it and can provide a more objective perspective. Sometimes a friend can act as a therapist, but often friends are also emotionally attached to you and the situation, and will provide guidance that is overly negative or positive. I think we’ve all had friends who dated someone who was terrible for them, but if we gave honest advice we would risk losing the friend. Because we are emotionally invested in the friendship it is impossible for our point of view to be objective or considered objective.

Unfortunately, many people cannot afford or are not willing to see therapists. I think everyone should see one occasionally, even if they aren’t in a relationship that could be destructive. It is really sad that people who can’t afford a therapist are unwilling to research the science on things like child-rearing or making relationships work before entering into a lifetime commitment. People (myself included) seem to intentionally go into things unprepared and hope that things will just work out.

It is simply false to believe that any of us will “naturally” know what to do to raise a child in the modern world or make a 50+ year relationship work.  It is just as dangerous to adopt cultural norms as your guiding force, just because our parents did something some way or you see other relationships operating in some way does not make those ways best. Evolution and most of our social norms developed in very different worlds than the one we live in now, and many of those lessons are no longer applicable. We only encourage unhealthy relationships if we refuse to seek objective viewpoints on our situation. None of us will naturally know what to do and cliches like “love is enough” are simply not true for healthy long-term relationships to thrive in 2016.

 

Vacation vs Transformation

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to why I enjoy the things I do. Pleasure inducing activities seem to fall into two, sometimes overlapping, categories: Vacation and Transformation. Vacations are the things that recharge us and allow us to relax. They are comfortable and stress-free. In some ways they are like a physical therapist, but for our motivation. They help us return to a healthy state when we are worn out and tired. The benefits from the vacation rarely last long once the vacation is over.

Transformation, on the other hand, are experiences that encourage us to grow and alter our behavior once the event is over. They are like personal trainers for the mind that make us stronger and happier for a long time, even if progress is slow in the beginning. These experiences are often extremely pleasurable, but they are fundamentally about growing and learning first.

Some events and experiences can fall into both categories, depending on the person. You can go to Burning Man or take MDMA and have that be a vacation. It can be about the moment, the pleasure, the recharge, but it can also be more than that. It can be Transformation when you take what happens during these experiences and use them to alter your behavior and mind once you leave. I don’t think Transformation comes naturally though, it takes some work.

To take an example that is close to me, let’s look at MDMA. While rolling you often are much, much more open to things like cuddling, touch, discussing painful issues, and new experiences. It isn’t like being drunk where your inhibitions go down and you do things you regret, instead it is like tearing down artificial or unnecessary walls to become the person you want to be deep down. The experience can be incredible, but once the day ends and you start to recover then you run the risk of it being a vacation instead of a transformation. You may not feel any regret for what happened and you may logically desire to do those things again without drugs, but there is still a block. The experience becomes an excuse not to change your life, you think “yes, I did that and I liked it, but only because I was (at Burning Man, on Molly, backpacking Europe, etc)” instead of acknowledging that you did it because those are things that you fundamentally want to do, they are part of the person you want to become.

Moving past that barrier is difficult, even when you recognize it. I don’t think I really have any solutions to it. I’m sure there are steps you can take… for example, if you want more platonic cuddling in your life you can actually schedule cuddle sessions with a willing friend. Or if when you are at Burning Man you are inspired to create art then when you get to the “default world” (which is burner talk for life off outside of Black Rock City) you can join an art class and find a way to keep yourself accountable.

It seems that the default position is vacation instead of transformation, at least for me. It is easy to conserve, rest, and be comfortable, even if it isn’t going to help fulfill your life. I guess that is part of what makes humans unique, we can recognize these higher goods and pursue them, even if they are in conflict with our evolved urges. It is never easy, but in my experience transformation is always worth it.

I Wasn’t Alone

By all accounts I am a late bloomer when it comes to relationships. My first kiss was at 18, my first time having sex was at 23, and I didn’t meet my wife until I was over 30. I spent all of my 20’s watching my friends get married, have kids, and even get divorced. During this time I felt like there was something wrong with me, something about me that either made me unlovable to others or unable to love others. At times I felt very alone and I thought I was destined to spend my life alone. I would die a bitter old man in a one bedroom apartment with my dogs and boxes of porn.

At some point I realized I wasn’t alone. In fact, it was the best mixture of circumstance and effort that lead me to where I am today. I am thankful and happy that I didn’t marry or meet my wife until later in life because those years turned out to be incredible years of growth and maturity. That time is when I explored the world, dated to find out what I am really looking for in a partner. I broke hearts and had my heart broken, I cried myself to sleep at night out of loneliness and went on adventures and saw sights whose beauty took my breath away (gonging to Burning Man single is a different experience than going with a partner, I highly recommend it). Looking back, I think it would have been incredibly foolish for me to commit 50+ years to one person when I had only been a legal adult for less than 5. I am a pretty risk tolerant person but I just wasn’t ready for that yet, I didn’t know what I wanted or who I was.

I guess it all kind of started when my early engagement broke up when I was 23. I was fresh out of the army and had just started college. The woman I thought I would spend my life with cheated on me and tore my heart up. I was broken. My heart became dark, cold, incapable of love. As unhappy as I was during that time I realize that I needed that coldness to heal. After the breakup (and one rebound relationship that should have never happened) I made a conscious decision not to look for a life partner until after college.

By taking the pressure to marry off the table I was able to have more fun and explore other types of relationships. My friendships grew as I focused on seeing my friends and doing things with them. I also found women who weren’t looking for long-term stuff and started “dating” (read: banging and ordering pizza) several of them at the same time. I was open that I was seeing other people and they were open that they were seeing others. We knew our relationships had an expiration date when college ended, and that just added to the intimacy and pleasure. To this day some of those women are close friends of mine. Our relationships weren’t failures because we didn’t end up together until one of us died, they were incredibly successful because we grew with each other and had incredible experiences together. Success in relationships should not be solely judged by longevity.

After college I moved to DC and found the atmosphere similar to the one in college. There were many women who were focused on their careers, and I wasn’t really ready to look for “the one”. Besides, I quickly realized that I wasn’t interested in staying in DC long term, and most people in DC are career politicos who need to be in Mordor for their professional success. So, instead of worrying about partnership I kept building my friendships (both sexual and otherwise).

One friendship in particular stands out. My friend Megan started out as a volunteer for the  organization I worked for but we became close friends. Eventually she started working as an employee for the organization and our friendship grew even tighter. Despite the rumors her and I never slept together (though I was always down for it), but we hung out, vented to each other about our lives, and shared secrets. When I decided to leave DC she came to my going away party with her friend, Anna, who would eventually become my life partner.

I didn’t know at the party that Anna would be someone I spent my life with. It wasn’t a “love at first sight” or anything. I wasn’t looking for that. I was about to start a solo cross-country bike ride to move to LA and the only thing I wanted out of Anna at that time was a friend for the weekend. We had a great weekend and, it turned out, Anna was moving to LA as well for a job. We promised to keep in touch but I didn’t have any expectations.

Well, I peddled the 3,500 miles and arrived in LA two months later, and Anna met me Santa Monica. She even let me kiss her despite my incredible stink and terrible homeless look. Over the next few months we became bang-buddies, eventually started dating, and then became “exclusive”. It is a classic love story of an drunken party hook-up turning into so much more.

My 20’s were a time of exploration and self reflection. It had my darkest days in it, but they forged me into the person I am now. I was never really alone, even though I wasn’t married. I don’t think there is some sort of deity or fate that brought me to where I am now. No, it was a mixture of chance and intention, but things did work out well. I have a wonderful partner who is excited to spend three years with me cycling the US, wants to travel the world with me, doesn’t want kids, not jealous, wants to have a minimalist life, and has similar political and religious views. By refusing to settle for someone who wasn’t lined up with me on important things like lifestyle and kids I was able to find the perfect partner for me now.

As great as our relationship is, neither one of us want it to last longer than it should. If either of us gets to the point where our views change drastically or we no longer are thriving in the relationship then we go our separate ways. Even this relationship, which we desire to last until death or immortality, will be a success if it is filled with love and support, even if it ends. We are both different than we were a decade ago, and it is likely that we will be different a decade from now. We hope to grow and change together, but if we don’t we can still look back on this relationship with happiness because we know it was successful.