A Love Story

The following question has been in my Sarahah box for almost four months. My apologies to whoever submitted it. It was a difficult request and I have not been particularly inspired lately. Writing fiction is something that I want to be able to do but I have struggled with it. I have worlds in my mind that seem to disappear as soon as I sit down at the keyboard. The truth is, I fear what I write will be bad. I know that is an emotional response and not a logical one, the truth is that what I write WILL be bad but it will likely (hopefully) get better.

Anyway, here is the story of the first time I was truly in love with someone who I could have spent my life with. This probably wasn’t what you expected but it is a love story. In fact, it is even a true(ish) love story. I’ve changed a few details, though a clever person who knew me in college could probably figure it all out.

 

“Please write a public love story. Dealer’s choice. I am interested in the love story you choose to write. I asked because you seem thoughtful and kind and different from me, and because a love story is a good antidote to daily internet snark and negativity.”

It was her laugh that first drew me to her. She had an infectious laugh that blossomed throughout her entire face. Her cheeks raised up until her eyes were barely a squint, her face already lined with wrinkles showing a lifetime of laughter. Her voice was husky and almost sandy, but distinctly feminine. There was an old soul inside her that had moved beyond the skepticism and apathy that often plagues us as we get older. She was beyond that, she was to the point of seeing joy and love in every moment. Not because she thought everything was perfect or that she would live forever but because she knew that it wasn’t and she wouldn’t. She was one who wanted to suck the beauty out of life and live every moment and that passion came through in her laugh.

At the time I was 27 and a senior at the College of Charleston. My years off after high school and time in the military made me older, though hardly more mature, than my undergraduate classmates. I felt a little odd hanging out with them sometimes and found myself interested in hanging out with the grad students. Which is what I was doing when I first heard her laugh, I was at a grad student party that was mostly Marine Biology students.

Almost without thought, I drifted towards the beer pong table where she was chatting with some friends. I awkwardly tried to join the conversation but spent most of the time listening and trying not to stare. I was painfully aware of my close-cut hair which still reflected my time in the army. I didn’t keep my hair short out of some sort of allegiance or political statement, but because I was broke and literally had no idea what else to do with my hair. Buzzing it monthly was easier and cheaper than going through the anxiety-ridden process of finding a barber, telling them what I want, and suffering through the process of talking with a stranger. Instead, I just buzzed it.

She and I eventually ended up chatting alone as alcohol coursed through our veins. Our inhibitions were low and I was talking openly about my life and she shared her experiences. I learned about her family in the northeast, her studies, and just life in general. I tried to focus on her words but felt captivated by her freckles and dark red hair (I would later find out she is “black Irish”). With every new piece of mental stimulation, my body responded with greater desire. People drifted out of the party and I knew the end was approaching, I wanted the talk to continue, I wanted to kiss her, but I couldn’t bring myself to make either happen.

Instead, we said our goodbyes and I went home, but that wasn’t the end.

Over the next few months, we crossed paths several times at parties and events. Each meeting brought bigger smiles and more talking, and eventually more than that. Our relationship changed after one fateful party when she invited me home with her and I had some of the greatest drunk sex of my life. I shouldn’t have driven to her place that night, I was too drunk to be on the road. That night shouldn’t have happened, but it did and things ended up okay.

After that night we didn’t really discuss what our relationship “was” or if we were exclusive. We both declared what we wanted, I wanted to be open and she wanted to be closed, but we never made a decision. We just assumed the other person was doing what we were doing… which was a mistake. Despite the ambiguity, we grew closer and closer to the point where professors and friends were asking if we were dating, a question we both always just shrugged off but I think others were more perceptive than we were. We were often together, had some of the deepest and most fulfilling conversations, and the most electric sex. We were dating, even if we didn’t want to admit it.

Things continued to go great for about a year. We had told each other that we loved each other and we traveled to meet each other’s family and friends back home. Things were great, but they had to end because our lives were on different trajectories. Upon graduation, I accepted a position in Washington DC and she was staying in Charleston to finish her grad work. I think we wanted to make it work long-distance, but we really couldn’t at that time. We were perfectly in sync and in love, except in the ways that are most important for long-term commitments. We just weren’t going to be in the right places at the right times.

So, after much struggle and suffering, we officially ended things. We tried to remain close friends but neither one of us could really move on as long as the other person was available. We both turned to each other with drunken phone calls and saw each other when I visited Charleston. We had great sex afterward but the spark, the love, the life of our relationship was safely buried to protect our hearts. Eventually, we changed phone numbers and unfriended each other on Facebook. It was love. It was true love. And it was my first. But neither of us were willing to make it happen, and that’s okay because there is no “one and only” and true love can happen many times.

I still wonder about her from time to time, particularly when I hear Flogging Molly or drink a Guinness. I wonder what could have been if I decided to stay in Charleston. I wonder if my life would be different or better, but those thoughts are fleeting. I am happier now than I have ever been and because of our decision to pursue our own lives, I ended up meeting my partner, my second true love, and the best connection, compatibility, and sex of my life. And I think she is doing well too. She is married now to someone she met shortly after we broke up and their connection is deeper than hers and mine was (she told me that shortly before we saw each other last).

Our lives turned out better because we decided to see this love as something that has value even if it isn’t “forever”. In fact, I think the ephemeral nature of it makes it more valuable. It was perfect for a time, but that time had to end. We learned from each other, we grew as people, and both ended up happier in the end.

I love her. I always will. And if she ever reached out to me to rebuild a friendship then I would welcome that. I’d love to meet her husband and I’d love for her to meet my wife. But I don’t think that’ll happen. Instead, I’ll treasure our love and the memory of what we shared together and forever appreciate what we had.


So, that’s my love story. Wanna share yours? Or do you have a question or comment for me? Feel free to use the links below. There is literally nothing that is off-limits (as you will probably notice if you read through the on my AMA page). You can also email me if you want a personal response and I won’t post anything publicly if you want privacy.

Sarahah: pneiger.sarahah.com
SurveyMonkey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Email: pjneiger@gmail.com

Oh, and if you get some value out of this I’m always accepting tips and my book is available via the Amazon link below on Kindle and paperback.
Book: http://amzn.to/2f2tkYi

PayPal: pjneiger@gmail.com
Bitcoin Wallet: 3BZQcA31awrYj7LAXmMY5armp5s1T2gpsL
Ethereum Wallet: 0x05F040cd6FB61377c375d487A37229359Dd6D976

Working Through “Principles”

Part of my new(ish) morning routine involves spending some time reading and studying a life-improvement or self-help book. I consider this category pretty broad and in the past it has included everything from “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall, “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferriss, “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg, “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield, etc. Basically, anything that will motivate me or provide me with tools to get the most out of life falls into this category.

Unfortunately, I have a pretty strong history of just reading a book, being motivated for about 45 seconds, and then moving on to the next thing. I’m sure what I read is lingering in my neuropathways somewhere, but those lessons aren’t easily accessible or applicable to my day-to-day life. So, I’ve begun more actively studying instead of reading, which involves taking notes, underlining, and reviewing what I read and wrote at the end of the day.

Alas, that has not been enough… I need to more actively apply what I’ve been reading. I thought about waiting until I finished my current book, “Principles” by Ray Dalio, but decided to start working now instead of waiting until the end. In my experience, you should always get started before you feel ready.

To summarize the book, Dalio has recorded a bunch of principles of life and work that he views as being successful. In this book, he shares those principles and encourages the reader to develop their own. I’m not at the point of really reflecting on my life to develop my principles in a concrete way, but I am going to use the principles that worked for him in my own life, in particular I’m using Principle 2 (Use the 5-Step Process to Get What You Want Out of Life) and Principle 5 (Learn How to Make Decisions Effectively). These two sections, in particular, have very actionable advice.

First, the 5-Step Process:

  1. Have clear goals.
  2. Identify and don’t tolerate the problems that stand in the way of achieving those goals.
  3. Accurately diagnose the problems at their root causes.
  4. Design plans that will get you around them.
  5. Do what’s necessary to push these designs through to results.

Second, the important parts of Principle 5:

  1. Recognize that the biggest threat to good decision making is harmful emotions and decision making is a two-step process (learning and then deciding)
  2. Track your progress and goals through time to make sure they are both heading in the right direction and the trajectory is steep enough to reach your goals in a reasonable amount of time.
  3. Be an imperfectionist.
  4. Decisions and goals are set at different levels and it is vital to navigating these levels effectively.

Alright, with all those nice numbered lists in mind I’m going to share one of my goals. After each goal is the next level (from high to low) which basically takes a dream and turns it into day-to-day action items. Below is an example of one of my goals (Financial Security), but I am also working on this process for other (sometimes overlapping) goals which include: Live a Long, Healthy Life; Continue to Learn and Develop Skills; Have an Adventurous Life; Discover My Potential; Explore My Kinks and Other Interests; Community and Giving Back.

Goal 1: Financial Security – Enough money to retire
1.1) Pay off student loans by Jan. 1, 2021
1.1a) Earn $60* per workday beyond living expenses (or, earn approximately $130 per workday)
1.1a1) Work at least four hours in primary job for this purpose
1.1a2) Do not spend money on unnecessary things or short-term satisfaction.

1.2) Have >$400,000** in an investment account by time I turn 55
1.2a) Earn $1,850 per month beyond debt and living expenses and put that into appropriate investment accounts.
1.2a1) Work at least three hours in primary job for this purpose and place in Roth IRA or other investment accounts
1.2a2) When necessary, transfer money from high-risk (ie blockchain) accounts to a lower risk account (ie Roth IRA) to meet monthly contribution goals


Problem 1: In the past, I’ve spent too much money on unnecessary things like coffee, pizza, and beer.
Solution 1: Use tools and habit-building to prevent unnecessary spending.
Solution 1a: Allocate a certain amount of “fun” money for splurging and take that out in cash. Don’t use credit/debit card.
Solution 1b: Reread and “The Power of Habit” to develop a plan to break spending habits.
Solution 2: Diagnose why I am spending money on things that end up being poor long-term investments.
Solution 2a: I turn to some foods (particularly pizza and beer) when stressed out or feeling depressed.
Solution 2a1: Research finding a counselor or therapist to help address these issues.
Solution 2a2: Reread and “The Power of Habit” to develop a plan to break habits that respond to stress.
Solution 2a3: Increase time spent in healthy, stress-reducing activities each day (ie exercise, mindfulness meditation, etc.)

Problem 2: Job and life changes could reduce or eliminate my primary source of income.
Solution 1: Work to diversify income stream with entrepreneurial activities
Solution 1a: Finish podcast series and publish
Solution 1b: Write blog daily to build audience and monetize
Solution 1c: Write more books
Solution 1d: Build additional skill sets that can be done remotely and find secondary work (GIS, data visualization, coding, etc.)
Solution 1e: Produce sex communication card idea
Solution 1f: Research food truck idea
Solution 2: Place money into savings account to minimize harm from this possibility

 

Well, that about wraps up this example of how I am trying to be more consciously aware of my decision making to get the most out of life. I don’t know if anyone else got value out of this but I sure did. And, as always…

If you have a question or comment feel free to use the links below. There is literally nothing that is off-limits (as you will probably notice if you read through the on my AMA page). You can also email me if you want a personal response and I won’t post anything publicly if you want privacy.

Sarahah: pneiger.sarahah.com
SurveyMonkey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Email: pjneiger@gmail.com

Oh, and if you get some value out of this I’m always accepting tips and my book is available via the Amazon link below on Kindle and paperback.
Book: http://amzn.to/2f2tkYi

PayPal: pjneiger@gmail.com
Bitcoin Wallet: 3BZQcA31awrYj7LAXmMY5armp5s1T2gpsL
Ethereum Wallet: 0x05F040cd6FB61377c375d487A37229359Dd6D976

 

* This is all pretty rough math. My current debt is ~$55,000 (or ~$1,145.83 per month to pay off in four years) and my living expenses are about ($1,400 per month and includes rent, internet, cell phone, utilities, food and fun fund, and taxes)
** This is basically how much I need to maintain my current lifestyle just by living off of a modest 7% annual return on my account.

Animals and the Future of this Blog

I have the goal of reading 60 books this year, which means I’ve been reading a lot more than I did last year. Those books have provided obvious inspiration for blog posts (see below), which has made me start to reflect on what the future of this blog holds. I originally started blogging back in 2009 as a way to record my cross-country bicycle ride (see: Wandering Oak for those old posts) but as I continued writing this blog has evolved. Now, it seems like it is going to mostly be my reflections on what I’m reading and solicited advice on sex, drugs, and all of those taboo subjects of life for anonymous friends and strangers. I didn’t expect this, but life is often unexpected (which is what makes it so exciting!!!!). And, to be honest, I’d love to keep doing lots more advice stuff… so if you have any questions or comments for me please send them my way. As always, no subject is off limits and I will respond to all of them as openly and honestly as possible.

Okay, on to the book stuff that inspired this post.

I’m currently reading* “The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory” by Carol J. Adams and it has caused me to reflect a bit on two labels that I apply to myself: vegan and feminist. I haven’t really spent any time reading or analyzing those labels in a formal way. I’ve called myself a feminist for several years but have never read anything explicitly feminist until picking up “The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love” by bell hooks a couple weeks ago. Similarly, my veganism came primarily from personal reflection on my values and had little to do with the effect others had on me.

Okay, that last part is only partially true. I originally looked into being vegan because a woman I had a crush on was vegan. We didn’t end up together (she is still a friend and is married to someone MUCH more compatible than I would have been) but once I opened the door to veganism and started thinking about it I was stuck. Hormones and lust may have lead me to veganism, but logic and ethics kept me there.

Which brings us to “The Sexual Politics of Meat”, a merging of veganism and feminism.

Wait, sorry, I need to back up to bell hooks first…

There are two concepts discussed in “The Will to Change” that I should lay out first (by the way, I highly recommend “The Will to Change”, 10/10, will read again). The first is compartmentalization. I was raised in a world where generally compartmentalization was seen as a good thing. I should separate my role as a soldier, student, Christian, Republican, etc. from each other. Christ says “turn the other cheek” but the soldier in me says “kill ’em all, let God sort them out”. Christ says “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.” and the GOP says “build a wall”. I thought I was at ease with my spirit, job, politics, and other roles in society being in different spheres of my life… but that wasn’t so. I couldn’t live with integrity – my life wasn’t integrated – if I was fracturing things. Reading hooks made me realize that my happiness, sense of self-worth, and ability to love was correlated with the years when I was able to break down the barriers between my roles and find a way to become united.

The second concept is really summed up in a quote hooks highlighted from Nathaniel Brandon. It is about taking responsibility for my own ethics instead of defaulting what is easy.

I am responsible for accepting or choosing the values by which I live. If I live by values I have accepted or adopted passively and unthinkingly, it is easy to imagine that they are just “my nature,” just “who I am,” and to avoid recognizing that choice is involved. If I am willing to recognize that choices and decisions are crucial when values are adopted, then I can take a fresh look at my values, question them, and if necessary revise them. Again, it is taking responsibility that sets me free.

Freedom comes from taking responsibility for my own actions and ethics instead of defaulting to the state, religion, or parents. As Socrates/Plato states, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” (Ugh, how cliche is it to quote Socrates?)

Okay, on to the actual meat of my thoughts when I was reading “The Sexual Politics of Meat” (see what I did there?). It really comes down to my ethical thought process for being a vegan, which is mostly admitting my own ignorance.

When people justify treating non-human animals differently than human animals they usually come up with some sort of line that separates us from them. Occasionally, I still hear things like “veganism isn’t healthy”, “you can’t get enough protein”, or “veganism is expensive”, but those arguments are getting factually weaker and weaker for most people. I do recognize that many people live in food deserts or lack the time, energy, and other resources to be completely vegan, but I think everyone can make small changes to minimize the harm to animals. Sorry, off on a tangent…

The one argument I hear regularly for separating human animals from non-human animals is that we have the capacity to “reason” or have “free will”. Here are my problems with that argument:

  1. Using “reason” or “free will” seems pretty arbitrary. Basically, people found something that appears to make us different and decided that it makes us so special that different ethical behavior applies. This is only a difference of degree not a difference in kind of the belief that white people are superior because they are white or men are superior because they are men. Finding the difference between two groups and deciding that is the line where ethics is drawn is not appropriate.
  2. It is weirdly anti-individual, but only for the benefit of humans. Many humans (due to mental illness, brain damage, age, etc.) lack what we would call “reason” or “free will” but we hold ourselves to a certain ethical standard for how we treat them. They are treated a certain way because they are human, not because they can reason. But the opposite is true with animals, even if we could prove that a certain individual ape (or dolphin, pig, whatever) could reason then we would still treat them with lesser rights because the majority of their species lacks that ability.
  3. To my knowledge, measuring “reason” or “free will” isn’t really possible. If they exist it seems that we can’t really determine it and it may exist on a spectrum instead of being binary. Animals show a level of problem-solving, self-awareness, emotions, etc. that shouldn’t be ignored. Many people discount this as just instinct… but couldn’t the same be said of humans? Pigs, in particular, are cognitively advanced. Just because our instinct is more complex doesn’t necessarily mean that we are better or deserve better treatment.

Really, the foundation of my view is that I don’t know how conscious animals are and I want to err on the side of peace and non-violence. I’d rather live a life where I am sure that I tried to minimize the suffering and death in the world than one where I just decided to go with the cultural norm even if it meant there was needless pain. I wouldn’t want Higgins to suffer and be killed for my pleasure ), and I don’t want animals that I haven’t named to be tortured and killed for my pleasure either (whether that pleasure comes from taste buds or from viewing makes no difference). Evolution has made me care about Higgins more than other animals, just as it has made me care about my partner more than a stranger. But if humans stand for anything, if free-will and ethics exist, then they implore us to move beyond evolution and show love and peace for those we don’t have the instinct to.

Think I’m batshit crazy? Am I wrong? Or maybe you want to send a kind message… I’m always open to criticism and respond to everything

If you have a question or comment feel free to use the links below. There is literally nothing that is off-limits (as you will probably notice if you read through the on my AMA page). You can also email me if you want a personal response and I won’t post anything publicly if you want privacy.

Sarahah: pneiger.sarahah.com
SurveyMonkey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Email: pjneiger@gmail.com

Oh, and if you get some value out of this I’m always accepting tips and my book is available via the Amazon link below on Kindle and paperback.
Book: http://amzn.to/2f2tkYi

PayPal: pjneiger@gmail.com
Bitcoin Wallet: 3BZQcA31awrYj7LAXmMY5armp5s1T2gpsL
Ethereum Wallet: 0x05F040cd6FB61377c375d487A37229359Dd6D976

 

* I’m actually also reading “Principles” by Ray Dalio and working my way through “The Daily Stoic” by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman again but those don’t really play into today directly… but I’m sure they will in the future 🙂

Seeing Our Addictions

Another year, another effort to get my writing habit developed. I’m going to keep trying to write daily until I get it down or I die (probably the latter). Oh well, life is about the journey and the struggle…

Anyway, as part of my daily routine I read a section from “The Daily Stoic“. I completed it last year and started it anew on January 1st. I have also added “The Daily Stoic Journal” to my morning routine to help me dive deeper into the text. Today’s passage and prompt really hit a sensitive spot for me:

We must give up many things to which we are addicted, considering them to be good. Otherwise, courage will vanish, which should continually test itself. Greatness of soul will be lost, which can’t stand out unless it disdains as petty what the mob regards as most desirable. – Seneca, Moral Letters, 74.12b-13

I have two thoughts on this passage. First, I disagree with the absolutism of Seneca in this case. I don’t think that it logically follows that because the “mob” thinks something is desirable then it is necessarily something we should “disdain as petty”. The mob can be wrong a lot, but it takes more analysis than just “they like it, so I hate it”. This absolutism is one of the areas in which I tend to disagree with the Stoics and this is a textbook case of that. A better way to put it would have been “Greatness of the soul will be lost, which can’t stand out unless it rationally looks at what the mob regards as most desirable to determine if it is truly of value.” Our reasoning mind is what powers us through life and we shouldn’t value being a contrarian over being a rational being.

The second thought is more personal and has to do with my own addictions. I think addiction exists on a spectrum (is anything in nature truly binary? Spoiler: no). There are certain things in my life that I have an addiction to that really do me no significant harm, other than the fact that I am a servant to these tools instead of the other way around. Coffee falls into this category. Other addictions have some harm but I generally have control over, but I need to be aware of them to make sure the bad doesn’t outweigh the good (alcohol, MDMA, video games, and pizza are in this group).

The last group is the most troubling, these are things that I know are causing more harm than good and I feel like I lack the control to give them up. Scrolling Facebook, reading the news, and concern over my online persona/image are the big ones for me in this group. I wouldn’t say things have spiraled out of control, but they are inching down that path and I find it troublesome. So, I’m going to focus on building a healthier relationship with these things so that I am in control and they are not. I’m not sure what tools will be effective yet, but I think abstinence from the news is doable and valuable. Facebook I want to maintain the good without the bad, which means not scrolling through my feed. There are groups on Facebook that I’m a part of and are really valuable to me, so I’m going to try and stick with replying to those and ignoring the rest.

So, we will see how it goes. I’m really excited about 2018 and I think it is going to be an amazing period of growth and new experiences.

As always, I’m an open book. 

If you have a question or comment feel free to use the links below. There is literally nothing that is off-limits (as you will probably notice if you read through the questions). You can also email me if you want a personal response and I won’t post anything publicly if you want privacy.

Sarahah: pneiger.sarahah.com
SurveyMonkey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Email: pjneiger@gmail.com

Oh, and if you get some value out of this I’m always accepting tips and my book is available via the Amazon link below on Kindle and paperback.
Book: http://amzn.to/2f2tkYi

PayPal: pjneiger@gmail.com
Bitcoin Wallet: 3BZQcA31awrYj7LAXmMY5armp5s1T2gpsL
Ethereum Wallet: 0x05F040cd6FB61377c375d487A37229359Dd6D976