My 15 minutes are over. They’ve been over for a good while now. It definitely felt good while it lasted, but hey, we can’t all be under the spotlight forever, huh? So now that 2 years have passed since I was on a segment of the Steve Harvey TV show, I can share with you the lessons I’ve learned that have lasted from minute 16 until now.
I began writing this while I was in Chicago, Illinois, the place where the Steve Harvey segment was taped. Just before I sat to start this, I spent the evening with one of the girls I met on the show and have remained friends with. With all the reminiscing and reflection I’ve been doing since seeing her and being in Chicago, it seemed like the right time to talk through this stuff.
I’m going to be honest here, completely honest. Parts of me have been embarrassed about this segment for a long time. I guess I’ve really just been judging myself, but after all this time I have learned that you have got to own your shit. So yeah, it happened. I was that “Help Me Get Over My Ex” guy on national television. So first I’m going to tell you how it went down — exactly how it went down.
My ex-girlfriend and I (for ease let’s just call her “Sarah”) got together in 2012. It was the most intense relationship I have ever been in. It was up and down and back and forth and I hate you one day, I love you the next. She was the meanest person I’ve ever dated but somehow still the most caring and loving. That was what I loved. I loved being loved. I loved having someone think I was the greatest person in the world, even if that meant being in denial about the times she said I was the worst person in the world. After 4 years of loving and fighting and breaking up and getting back, it finally went kaput.
In my desperate and futile attempts to get back in Sarah’s good graces, I did something absolutely ridiculous: I reached out to the producers at the Steve Harvey TV show to help me get her back.
This was after every other attempt had been made and failed, miserably. The reason I chose Steve Harvey is because she liked the show and we would watch it together at her house. She wanted me to read one of his books once, which I did most of, and in his defense it wasn’t half bad. What kept nagging me and what I kept hearing in my head was that while we were breaking up, she kept telling me that she wanted something “AMAZING.” My thought was, “What could be more amazing than this? To go through all of this effort just to show how much I love you?” Apparently, trying to get someone who wants nothing to do with you to go on national TV to talk about it is NOT the way to win her heart.
So after much emailing the producers finally called me. That’s when the process of people calling me and sending emails and answering questions began. I had to make a 60 second video of myself talking about my story and what I wanted help with. I did everything I possibly could to convey to them that all I wanted was to do something incredible so she would think I was good enough.
Then they wanted to talk to Sarah. Uh-oh. How much more nerve-wracking can you possibly get? I sat around waiting for them to call me back with the verdict from the girl herself. “What’s she going to think about this?” I thought. “Is she going to be pissed? This is kind of ruining the surprise. Is she going to be impressed?”
Well, I don’t know if she was pissed, but she wasn’t impressed because she told the producer she wanted nothing to do with any of it. At that point, my heart sunk even more and I was ready to give it up. I no longer had any interest in pursuing this Steve Harvey nonsense. But the producer told me “Tom we really like you and we want to help you. We want to have you on but it’s going to be a different spin. Would you be interested in coming on and doing a ‘Get Over Your Ex’ type thing? It will be kind of a mini bachelor-type deal.”
And that’s how it happened. I emailed them. Then I emailed them again, and then again, until they finally called. I was so out of my mind and focused on one thing only, making her love me again, that I couldn’t see just how crazy it was. I was just trying to feel better. I never thought it would actually manifest itself but before I even had time to think it all the way through I was on a plane to Chicago.
I was so damn nervous about the whole thing. My anxiety was through the roof the whole time. “Should I really be doing this? What is she going to think? I don’t want to upset anyone. Maybe I shouldn’t. How am I going to explain this? What are people going to think about me after this? Is it too late to withdraw? Fuck her, I’m doing this.”
They flew me to Chicago twice. On two separate weekends I got to stay in two wicked nice hotels, courtesy of the good people at the show. I got treated like a king. I had my own car waiting for me at the airport that brought me everywhere I needed to go and got to choose between two different outfits that were put together by the wardrobe people. They even let me keep that dope sport jacket and the most comfortable dress pants I’ve ever worn in my life.
Unbeknownst to me, the plan was to have me go on four different dates with four different girls in one day. Everything was a surprise to me, though I quickly realized every date was set up based on the questions I had answered for the producers ahead of time like “Do you like to ride bikes?” and “Have you ever had lox?” I didn’t know where we would be going, who I would be meeting, or what we would be doing. I rode bikes along Lake Michigan, had a picnic with wine and lox, ate an amazing chicken dinner, and got to go dancing and get some free drinks at night.
As I am writing this, I am becoming overwhelmed just thinking about all of the people that made this happen, how much work they put into it, how connected they felt to the things I was feeling, and how much attention they paid to it. I’m telling you, I am so impressed and forever humbled by the crew, the producers, the assistants, the camera people, the makeup lady, and everyone involved. It was so amazing and impactful how special they made me feel and how positive it was that I couldn’t even believe it. I can’t even properly impart it to you. What actually ended up on TV, that 10-minute segment or however long it was, says absolutely nothing of it. I spent 10 hours downtown with these people. The field producer was a Phish-head! We connected. They felt me and I could feel them injecting their empathy into everything we did that day. They had all been where I was. Nobody was in a place to deny that feeling of complete misery and confusion and worthlessness you end up with when your heart is broken.
I’m not even going to shy away from it — I was the poster boy for pathetic post-breakup behavior. I was the worst. I just kept begging and pleading, “I’ll do whatever you want, just don’t leave me.” I wish I could apologize to Sarah now because I know how it must have felt to her at the time. I can only imagine how annoyed she was with my incessant calling and texting. I didn’t understand what was wrong with me; I could NOT get ahold of myself. I kept trying to do these big things that screamed “SEE WHAT I DID FOR YOU?” with each one more elaborate than the last, without even considering that the small things she was asking for were what was missing.
Here comes the ultimate realization. This is the ticket. I could not stop loving her because if she wasn’t there it meant I had to face the fact that I didn’t love myself.
I see it so clearly now. Being with Sarah and getting all of the extra attention, nonstop compliments, gifts, and favors meant that I didn’t have to love myself. She did it all for me. She propped up my happiness, albeit it was empty. It was an artificial high for me. Sarah was the best drug I had. Not only that but when she flipped the switch and we fought, her harsh words and verbal abuse would reinforce the feelings of inadequacy that I already had about myself for years and years before I even met her. It was the perfect storm.
By the time the relationship was completely dead, I might as well have been. I isolated myself from my biggest social circles, I lost a lot of friends, put strain on my family, and burned a ton of bridges — everyone in those circles knew I was losing it. At that point I figured, “What do I really have to lose here?” I could only gain from giving this a shot. Nothing bad could’ve possibly come from saying yes to the experience. I was exactly right about that.
The second weekend I went in the studio and sat down with Steve Harvey on set. We ended up talking for almost a half hour, but I think they cut it down to just a few minutes. He made a ton of jokes, obviously, and told me this ridiculous story of how he had sex with an older woman when he was my age and it was so good it made his eyes roll all the way to the back of his head. A lot of it was for show and was all in good fun, but he did say one thing that has stuck with me. He said, “You’re blowing the prime of your life.” Ouch, thunderstruck! He couldn’t have been more right, though.
If you’ve ever been heartbroken, lonely, and left in the cold, then here is the most important thing that you’ve got to understand: you cannot love anyone if you don’t love yourself. Certainly your ex isn’t going to want to take you back when you keep showing them how depressed and sad and pathetic you are. Locking yourself away and eating like garbage and staying up late and crying is not loving yourself, and they are not going to love it any more than you do. You also have no control over how anyone feels about you. None. Nunca. Zilch. Zero. If your precious boyfriend or girlfriend leaves you and tells you they don’t love you anymore, then that is on them. Shed the responsibility of proving to them that you are worth loving because if you truly love yourself, you don’t need them to love you. Someone will come along and find you in your new state of self and love you without ever having to be convinced.
Love from someone else will just be an addition to your house that already had enough love to stand on its own. I had nothing to prove to Sarah. She knew how much I loved her, but the burden of providing me with happiness and sustaining it for me is too great for anyone to bear. You also have to realize the significant difference between love and attachment. When you won’t let somebody leave because you think his or her presence is a necessity for you to be happy, then you are not showing your best love. Sometimes love means letting go. Attachment means keeping a tight grip, and if you squeeze too tight, you’re going to create pressure. All that it takes is time and pressure for things to break or even explode.
Trust me, I know that is a tough pill to swallow when your heart is in pieces. I know that you’d want to refuse it. I did. I ignored everyone. I ignored every word my family and friends said to me. I know it’s all easier said than done; it always is. I wasted much of my prime years trying to fix broken relationships because I thought I needed them to be happy. I thought that a relationship would fill a void and that if I could just find someone and love the shit out of her, then she would see how good I am and love me too, and then I’d finally be happy!
Nah dude, that’s not how it works.
I didn’t realize then that the problems in those relationships weren’t that I didn’t love those people enough. I spent all my time trying to please them, trying not to make a mistake, trying to say just the right thing or show how nice and caring I am. I tried too damn hard for them and not enough for me. I threw the things that were important to me away because again, I wasn’t important to me. Steve Harvey also told me, “You do got a little whip in there now.” Zinger again! But that dude is on point! For me, loving myself meant validation from everyone else. I could only love myself if so and so said I was worth loving. My entire psyche was anchored to whether or not they wanted to be with me. I could never stand up for myself out of fear of being left. It was easier for me to deal with the hurt of being unhappy in a relationship and not getting the things I needed out of it than it was to deal with being unhappy with myself, with my life, and with my existence.
Going on the show was a big turning point for me. It’s such a great example of this sort of self love that I’m talking about. I initially pursued it completely for someone else, but what actually ended up happening was something special just for me. I swear the Universe was really looking out for me here. It took my attempt at loving someone into loving me and said “SORRY TOM, BUT THIS ONE IS ACTUALLY FOR YOU.”
When it finally aired, the outpouring of support was incredible. I got so many messages from people I knew, people I didn’t know, people from across the country, and from people I didn’t expect to hear from at all. These feelings are universal. I know that now that I’ve come out of it better than I ever did while I was in it, and that’s allowed me to share this experience with everyone and own up to it. Everyone, no matter what age or gender, is susceptible to heartbreak. It’s an unfortunate but necessary part of growing. You get hurt so you can toughen` up your exoskeleton. You have to shed your old skin that has been torn and battered so your new skin will glow.
Unfortunate but necessary. That’s how I can best describe the whole ordeal, from 2012 right up to the airing of the show. Though it was unquestionably the lowest I have ever felt in my life, I can’t say that I’m not thankful for all of it. I am so glad that it all happened this way because had it not, I might still be in an unsatisfying relationship in a place that I didn’t want to live. I would still be living in the same vicious cycle of self-loathing. I would never have met any of the people that I was able to meet and connect with through the TV show experience and otherwise. Most importantly, I would never have learned to love myself.
I’ve completely let go of this feeling of necessity for a relationship and more specifically, someone to love me. I took control of myself. I got up and started doing things for myself that I always wanted to do. I did P90X and got a six-pack for the first time in my life. Being physically fit and healthy is something I always wanted to do for myself. FOR MYSELF. That’s like the ultimate form of loving yourself. Would you feed someone you loved Doritos in the middle of the night and pizza for breakfast and let them sleep til 4 pm? I started playing solo acoustic gigs, and most of the time no one was even watching, but I did it for me. I went after jobs that I deserved and wanted and started saying no to the things I didn’t want.
I try to see it all from the outside, and when I do that I’m floored by just how much my life has changed. 3 years ago I was the sorriest, mopiest, saddest sap in the neighborhood and everyone knew it. Today I’m the happiest I have ever been in my entire life, and guess what? I’m single. My happiness doesn’t hang on anyone but me.
I’ll tell you what though: whoever that next girl is… psh… she is going to get the best damn version of me you’ve ever seen.