There is no crying in baseball.
Unless your team loses a big game. That’s really the only time it’s socially acceptable to cry in sports, and even then it’s like spotting a rare white elk. Although I’m generalizing, this is true for most sports in America (European football seems to be fine with crying).
As athletes we avoid crying because it makes us appear weak and vulnerable, which in turn would give opponents an advantage. We would rather get pissed, throw things and blame everybody. This is the way we are taught to deal with feelings we don’t like. It makes sense in sports, especially if you have a convenient outlet for that anger like pushing another man on the line of scrimmage or a full-out sprint to burn through your emotions.
Anger is actually very useful when a powerful physical response is called for and it’s completely normal in sports. Have you ever seen a baseball player strike out then be vulnerable and cry? I didn’t think so, but a bat to the Gatorade cooler?
I hope coolers don’t have feelings.
So what happens when you go home?
If something happens in your relationship that upsets you, do you punch through the nearest wall? Do you blame your partner like they are a referee that just made a bad call? Can you turn off the habits between the locker room and your house? (This also applies to women who are athletes, but I’ve chosen to make men the subject for the sake of simplicity and pandering to my female audience)
I can’t turn it off. In fact, after three years of wrestling, four years of football, four years at the Naval Academy and five years as a Navy Officer, I’ve developed some of the world’s worst habits when it comes to relationships. You think high divorce rates in the military are because of deployments? Think again.
If you’re anything like me, unlearning this habit has been an extremely difficult and arduous task. It’s been especially painful for the women in my life who are on the receiving end. When I act from a place of violence (mostly verbal, but honestly what’s the difference) I let my anger run the show, I blame my partner, point out everything I don’t like about her and make sure to never show her my sadness, hurt or insecurity.
As a result, she feels afraid of my reaction, distant and confused because she doesn’t know what’s going on for me, and made wrong by the judgements coming out of my mouth. It’s painful.
Playing A New Game
Thanks to the magic of self-realization, some persistent mentors and friends, and the patience from my wife, I saw that this habit needed to go if I was going to have a healthy, lasting marriage. I turned to a method of communicating known to many people as NVC (Non-Violent Communication). NVC is a simple way of sharing what’s going on for you in a way that reveals instead of blames.
For example, if my wife and I are on a date and in the middle of a vulnerable story, I whip out my phone to check Facebook, instead of her sharing “you shouldn’t check Facebook while I’m talking” she might offer something like “ouch… when you pulled out your phone in the middle of my story I felt sad and hurt”. Feels nicer, right?
I feel (insert emotion here) when (the facts about what happened) .
It’s a lot easier to make someone else wrong than reveal how we are impacted by other people’s actions. In fact, one of the toughest things for me to admit is simply that you have an effect on me, because part of me would much rather retreat to my fortress of solitude and be completely unaffected by the world around me.
It takes courage for someone with my history to share that way, and it’s taken a lot of patience and practice.
I’m Beginning To See The Light
Since moving to Bali three months ago, I’ve gotten the privilege of spending a lot of quality time with a tribe of people who are kind to Gatorade coolers, meaning they don’t react violently and break things when life gets hard. My habits are actually starting to change, and I think it’s due largely to being around people who have already adopted this lifestyle.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this whole process, it’s that we become like the people we spend time with, for better or for worse. Most of us didn’t get to choose our family, and our formative years are mostly luck of the draw. When we become adults, we have the wonderful chance to look at who we’re around and ask ourselves if we want to adopt their habits.
Being an athlete has taught me essential life lessons about persistence, mental toughness, healthy competition and teamwork, lessons I wouldn’t trade for the world, but I often wonder if we could teach these lessons without the cost of also teaching kids to be violent and abusive when things don’t go their way.
You know… it’s messed up how we raise kids to ignore their emotions and blame others. I don’t like it one bit! In fact our whole damn education system is set up to raise…
Hang on a sec…
I feel sad when I think about how kids are raised without the tools they need to understand their emotions.
And I love you.