38 minutes of my day are mine...

Andy, early 40s

Exactly 38 minutes of my day are mine. I wake up every morning at 5 o’clock and get myself ready for work. I brush my teeth, shower, and groom—in that order. Then, I look over my work emails while I’m walking downstairs to the kitchen, where my wife is waiting with a cup of already-brewed coffee.

I tell her good morning, usually without looking up from my phone. I grab the coffee in one hand and gulp it down in one go, setting it back down on the marble counter with a clink that signals I’m ready for my second cup. Then, I grab an apple and head back upstairs to wake up the kids. It’s 5:45.

By 6:30, the kids are dressed and their lunches are packed. I’ve asked them if they’ve done their homework, and they’ve nodded “yes” with a roll of their eyes—an obligatory gesture at their age. I make a mental note to engage them more, to find out more about their lives, but there’s not enough time. There’s never enough time.

In the next ten minutes, I give my wife a kiss—our only form of intimacy in the last several months—and I head to my car. She will drop off the kids before driving to work herself. And I—well, my thoughts for the next 19 minutes will be occupied by myriad worries.

For one, my wife and I haven’t had sex in over six months. There’s this space between us that keeps growing. Any attempt I make at breaching the gap seems contrived—she thinks that it’s all a means to an end, the end being sex. But honestly, I want to feel that we’re not just roommates—that we’re not just waiting for the kids to grow up so that we can move on.

But it’s not all her fault. We have separate bedtimes, and she often stays up to study or catch up on work. I do, too. There have been times when she’s tried to initiate intimacy and I’ve turned her down. I tell her that I’ll be up in a minute, but then I get caught up with work, or I decide I need a shower. I realize I’m making excuses. And that worries me.

We both work in the same field, and it’s a highly competitive one. I have a higher position, but she recently chose to go back to grad school so that she can have access to better opportunities. I support her, but she says that I secretly begrudge her eventual success. In a lot of ways, it does seem like a zero-sum game. Any time that she spends with her schoolwork is time that I have to spend compensating—whether it’s for housework or parenting chores.

It doesn’t help that we have entirely different parenting styles. She’s strict, and I’m more laid back; the kids see this and, being kids, they pit us against each other. I let them get away with it, which upsets her endlessly. And I spend money on them—on us—money that she doesn’t think we have. She has a very firm grip on our finances, and we always fight about it. It seems like we fight about everything lately. It’s getting rough; being in this marriage is burning up so much energy that it feels like I’m holding down a second job.

I arrive at work at roughly 7 AM. I greet my coworkers and grab yet another cup of coffee on my way to the office. And then I work, often uninterrupted until late afternoon. I work hard because I’m in my early 40s and these are peak years for upward mobility. But that’s the short answer.

Around 6:00 PM, I usually get a text from my wife. Where are you, she wants to know. Are you avoiding us? She’s on to something. I work long hours because it’s easier than what awaits me at home; it’s simpler.

But I reluctantly get back in my car and for another 19 minutes, I am on my own. There are no children demanding to watch just five more minutes of their TV show. There is no wife nagging me about money, or about working too much or not working hard enough. It is quiet and I get to visit with my thoughts, and for a little while, I feel all right.

As I pull up to the third stop sign from my house, though, anxiety bubbles in the pit of my stomach and I slow the car down to a crawl. I keep going, little by little, meaning to stop any second now—but the driveway slips away and then I can see it in the rearview mirror. I drive around the block once more, twice more, and then I finally park.

A brief respite...

Hello friends,

It’s been a little while since I’ve updated you with new stories, but I promise there is good reason. I had a baby, and I’ve been so completely enthralled with and consumed by motherhood. It’s a scary, beautiful time.

I promise there is some REALLY powerful stuff coming your way very soon. So, read on. Send me a line; I love getting your messages.

And, as always, keep listening!

Helena

"The thing that nobody knows about our perfect family is that my husband is a monster."

Jane, 30s

My husband and I have been together for almost a decade, and we have one son. We met through mutual friends; he was (is) successful, charming, and very well liked in his circle of friends. I would say that his guy friends almost look up to him, so much so that I’m often told that I’m “lucky” to have “found him.” From the look of things, he has the perfect life and perfect family.

The thing that nobody knows about our perfect family is that my husband is a monster. He is extremely verbally abusive towards me and, on occasion, our son. He has never been physically abusive which, I think, is why I’ve put up with it.

I used to be clueless as to what would send him into a tailspin but I’ve become better at understanding his triggers. Sometimes, he wakes up in a mood and you can tell he’s just waiting for the slightest bit of provocation to unleash on me. Other times, it’s something I might say or do that upsets him. He gets quiet and brooding and secludes himself. For instance, if the three of us are spending time together and something happens, he will just go and shut himself in our bedroom without explanation. It could be hours or minutes later that he comes out and just starts screaming at me.

I try to let him get it all out without interfering because I know that engaging him will just make things worse. He says all kinds of things—tells me that I’m stupid, that I’ve ruined his life, that I’m a leech sucking the money out of him (I have a full time job on top of taking care of our son), and that he’s made a mistake marrying me and having our son. Our son has heard him saying these things; I can’t control when it happens so it’s impossible to preemptively remove him from the situation.

I’ve heard “you’re stupid” so many times that I’m starting to believe it. I don’t know why I put up with him. If I don’t apologize for whatever offense he’s perceived, or if I don’t tell him he’s right—basically, if I don’t beg for forgiveness on my knees—it’s a tense and horrible situation for days on end. We’ve spent months sleeping in separate beds—of course, I’m the one who gets banished to the guest room—and not speaking to one another, save for the weekly screaming sessions on his end. But even when I stand my ground, what am I gaining? Eventually, things have to go back to “normal.” Eventually, I have to be the one to acknowledge some sort of fault for that to happen. In the years that I’ve known him, he has never apologized to me.

I’ve spent so much time thinking about what could be wrong with him. He didn’t grow up in a two-parent family so I doubt he’s just mimicking what he saw growing up. He is not like this with other people—at least not that I notice and not to this extent—so I don’t know if he’s bipolar, or has borderline personality disorder, or is depressed. I think all of the hatred is coming from some sort of deep-rooted resentment that he holds against me. Our son wasn’t a planned pregnancy; we actually had decided against having children. Is this all because he feels that I trapped him into parenthood?

The thing that scares me, though, is that after I’ve done damage control, he just goes back to being this normal, nice person with the snap of a finger. When we’re in the middle of one of these situations and we have to be around friends and family, he’s pleasant as can be. He puts on this act for everyone and pulls me into it. It’s completely psychotic. If I refuse to play along or if someone notices that something is “up”—of course, I’m automatically perceived as the bad guy, because my husband is so good at deceiving everyone into believing that he’s not the person I know him to be in private.

It’s the duplicity that gets me, because it means that he knows he’s being crazy and that he can control it. And I have no control. Every other word that comes out of my mouth is “I’m sorry.” I’m traumatized by him and his behavior, and I feel completely trapped in his cycle of manipulation. With him, you either bend or you break. And I’ve bent myself into a different person.

“The thing that nobody knows about our perfect family is that my husband is a monster.”

Jane, 30s

My husband and I have been together for almost a decade, and we have one son. We met through mutual friends; he was (is) successful, charming, and very well liked in his circle of friends. I would say that his guy friends almost look up to him, so much so that I’m often told that I’m “lucky” to have “found him.” From the look of things, he has the perfect life and perfect family.

The thing that nobody knows about our perfect family is that my husband is a monster. He is extremely verbally abusive towards me and, on occasion, our son. He has never been physically abusive which, I think, is why I’ve put up with it.

I used to be clueless as to what would send him into a tailspin but I’ve become better at understanding his triggers. Sometimes, he wakes up in a mood and you can tell he’s just waiting for the slightest bit of provocation to unleash on me. Other times, it’s something I might say or do that upsets him. He gets quiet and brooding and secludes himself. For instance, if the three of us are spending time together and something happens, he will just go and shut himself in our bedroom without explanation. It could be hours or minutes later that he comes out and just starts screaming at me.

I try to let him get it all out without interfering because I know that engaging him will just make things worse. He says all kinds of things—tells me that I’m stupid, that I’ve ruined his life, that I’m a leech sucking the money out of him (I have a full time job on top of taking care of our son), and that he’s made a mistake marrying me and having our son. Our son has heard him saying these things; I can’t control when it happens so it’s impossible to preemptively remove him from the situation.

I’ve heard “you’re stupid” so many times that I’m starting to believe it. I don’t know why I put up with him. If I don’t apologize for whatever offense he’s perceived, or if I don’t tell him he’s right—basically, if I don’t beg for forgiveness on my knees—it’s a tense and horrible situation for days on end. We’ve spent months sleeping in separate beds—of course, I’m the one who gets banished to the guest room—and not speaking to one another, save for the weekly screaming sessions on his end. But even when I stand my ground, what am I gaining? Eventually, things have to go back to “normal.” Eventually, I have to be the one to acknowledge some sort of fault for that to happen. In the years that I’ve known him, he has never apologized to me.

I’ve spent so much time thinking about what could be wrong with him. He didn’t grow up in a two-parent family so I doubt he’s just mimicking what he saw growing up. He is not like this with other people—at least not that I notice and not to this extent—so I don’t know if he’s bipolar, or has borderline personality disorder, or is depressed. I think all of the hatred is coming from some sort of deep-rooted resentment that he holds against me. Our son wasn’t a planned pregnancy; we actually had decided against having children. Is this all because he feels that I trapped him into parenthood?

The thing that scares me, though, is that after I’ve done damage control, he just goes back to being this normal, nice person with the snap of a finger. When we’re in the middle of one of these situations and we have to be around friends and family, he’s pleasant as can be. He puts on this act for everyone and pulls me into it. It’s completely psychotic. If I refuse to play along or if someone notices that something is “up”—of course, I’m automatically perceived as the bad guy, because my husband is so good at deceiving everyone into believing that he’s not the person I know him to be in private.

It’s the duplicity that gets me, because it means that he knows he’s being crazy and that he can control it. And I have no control. Every other word that comes out of my mouth is “I’m sorry.” I’m traumatized by him and his behavior, and I feel completely trapped in his cycle of manipulation. With him, you either bend or you break. And I’ve bent myself into a different person.

To read all the Confessions, go here!

What we lost when Craigslist shut down its personals section

I placed my first ad in the Craigslist “personals” section four years ago. If memory serves me correctly, it was under the Strictly Platonic category, with the subject, “Tell me about yourself…” Posting the ad was an attempt to connect with similar-minded people over the stories and secrets that we all keep, nudging open the curtain that separates our perfectly curated external lives from our imperfect inner ones.

It’s funny: I have no memories of the night I posted that original ad, in which I asked people to share with me their deepest, darkest secrets—the stories they could tell no one else. I only remember the vague feelings that led to the whimsical decision to post, and then waking up the next day to an inbox full of replies. It’s strange to not clearly remember something that completely changed my life.

Four years—and more than 300 interviews and thousands of responses—later, my full-time job has become to listen to strangers tell me about things they’ve never told anyone else. It’s completely anonymous, and it’s free. The average length of a meeting is about two hours, during which I listen, take notes, and ask the occasional question. It is an exercise in radical listening and compassion, in building a space where people can simply be themselves without fear of the judgment or stigma that often follows confessions.

In March, Craigslist pulled its personals section in response to a sex-trafficking bill that holds platforms liable if they are found to be facilitating sex trafficking and prostitution. The reaction was not without merit: over the years, websites like Craigslist and Backpage had become online marketplaces for illegal sexual activity. Craigslist’s decision marked the end of the 23-year-old section, where people gathered for many reasons, often benign. In its spartan design, the personals section was in many ways the predecessor to our myriad online dating platforms, facilitating casual sex, unsolicited nudes, and the occasional relationship. But for many people, myself included, it was much more than that.

When I first posted my ad, I was working for a boutique lobbying shop in Washington, DC. It was my first “real” job out of law school, but it wasn’t for me.

The things I valued about myself—my empathy, my listening skills, and my ability to connect with people on a deeper and more meaningful level were handicaps at my lobbying job. “Don’t be empathetic; get your bottom line at any cost,” I was told. “Don’t listen—lean in, speak up, stand out. Connect, yes: go to happy hours, have your business cards ready—present yourself as successful, happy, and fulfilled. Remember names. Remember employers. Remember a detail of someone’s life that shows you were listening. Remember: how can they be useful?”

“How’s the new job?”

“Oh, I absolutely love it.” Now smile.

I felt so alienated, so disconnected from everyone else. If only we could break out of our one-track lives and connect on something deeper: on the imperfect details, on the things that keep us up at night, on the memories that make us freeze mid-laugh. Yet I felt trapped, an indentured servant to my student loan debt.

That’s what the ad was about. It invited people to “tell me about yourself”—but really tell me. Tell me what you can’t tell your therapist, your mom, your best friend, your coworker in the next cubicle—because you’re afraid she’ll forever see you differently now. You’re afraid you’ll bear your heart out and someone will laugh, or think you stupid and naïve, or think you misguided in your intentions. Tell me what it feels like to spend a day in your head. Tell me because it’s anonymous. Tell me because you’ll never see me again and because you have nothing to lose. Tell me because I’m with you now. I hear you. I see you.

On Craigslist, I wasn’t alone. I found a community craving the same thing I did: a connection. Something real. What Craigslist provided for us was an anonymous space where we could be ourselves with nothing to lose. In its scrambled email addresses, some of us found safety: to confess trauma, addiction, unhappiness, ennui, regret, guilt, shame.

In the two years I used Craigslist, until I started hearing from people directly by email, I don’t remember receiving any solicitations or obscene photos. I found what I had hoped for: people who wanted to be heard.

Yet, along the way, the Craigslist personals section became synonymous with seediness, with sex, drugs, and prostitution, risky situations, and illicit affairs. This reputation wasn’t always deserved. If there’s anything that the last four years have taught me it’s that there’s always more than meets the eye—that in today’s society it’s easy to stereotype, to dismiss, to typecast, to categorize and put away. If we bother to dig just beyond that façade, to listen and look a little deeper, we can almost always discover a story worth listening to—worth telling.

So, thank you, Craigslist personals, for allowing us an intimate look at humanity in extremis. Thank you for the connections you facilitated, for the stories you helped tell, and for helping us listen a little longer, challenge our assumptions, and understand a little better. Thanks for allowing us our confessions.