christopher gutierrez

Writer. Author. Publisher.

Earning a spot on the team.

I distinctly recall being nervous. Which was out of character for that time of my life and the circumstances. Walking down Sheffield Avenue, I constantly checked my hair in the reflections of the shops along the way. I remember wondering what such an attractive woman was thinking when she agreed to meet me for a coffee date. 

Every date was my last. Well, at least that was the attitude I went in to them with toward the end of that era. I had lost count by that time but as I reached for the door handle, I knew that had to have been somewhere between the 400th and 500th coffee date that year. Zero exaggeration. I just wanted it to be over. The “hey let’s get to know each other but not really get to know each other because we’re both sizing one another up to make sure you’re not a creeper or rapist or degenerate or low-life” talk. I had grown tired of telling the same stories about myself over and over again. Dozens of dates a week. Week after week, month after month. Some I hooked up with. Some I never spoke to again, but most were simply decent people with whom I had little to no compatibility. A nice smile and a hug and a have a good life. So it surprised the shit out of me when the conversation took a turn away from the ordinary.  

"So are you married?" She asked bluntly. 
"Uh," I laughed, "No. Why would you ask that?"
"Because it turns out most guys I’ve met from dating sites are married."
"Well, I can assure you I am not." I said, "Nor have I ever been. Not even close"

There was a distinct pause and almost accusingly she asked, “So why are you so old and you’ve even come close to being married?”

I got that flustered feeling like I was being attacked but I said, “Well, I guess I just haven’t found the right person.”

She pursed her lips and with just the right amount of sass she said something to the effect of, “Well you’re not getting any younger. Do you think you ever will find the right person?”

From there on, most of the conversation is a blur. I think I gave her canned responses of “well compatibility is tough to find” and “I don’t mind waiting” and “I think the institution of marriage is a ridiculous and outdated tradition” - all of which I still believe. That conversation happened years ago and yet it continues to haunt me. 

The truth is, I have had the opportunity to marry people along the way. Brilliant and wonderful women who told me they believed they could live a perfectly happy life with me. But I never went through with it. And sure, while I think marriage is ridiculous, I said, “I suppose I would go through with it for someone I love if it mattered to them.” And that was it. That was when I figured it out. 

I simply never felt like I was on a team with someone. My relationships never felt fair. Yes, we had wonderful and comfortable years and I had been happy with those women but I guess I never truly trusted them in a way that they would do for me what I would do for them. Relationships always felt like a transaction. You do this for me because I did this for you. I got you this so you should do the same for me and so on. Whether it was who did the dishes most, who fed the cats the most, who got to watch their shows the most, who was allowed priority of the DVR, who put gas in the car the last time, who got more oral sex, whose turn it was to clean the bathroom - obligations, expectations, assumptions, it all just seemed like a subtile competition. 

I once dated a woman who told me she really wanted spaghetti from Buca Di Beppo. That she was feeling sad and depressed and all she wanted was some comfort food. It was 8pm at night and it was just above freezing in a Chicago winter. So I hopped on my bike and rode the three miles to pick up $80 worth of food. Then, with two giant brown paper bags of food, I rode my bike the five miles to her apartment in Humboldt Park. When I got there to surprise her she simply said, “Oh, just put the food on the table.” No thank you. Just an attitude of, well, that’s what Chris does. And the most unattractive trait in anyone is entitlement. All I could think about as I sat on the couch with her that night was, would she ever do something like that for me? And the answer was no. I didn’t need her to fall to her knees in thanks - I simply wanted to feel appreciated, because that is what we all not only want, but need, to maintain a healthy relationship. 
After three and a half years, I ended things soon afterward. 

I guess what I’m trying to say is, being on the same team isn’t about calling out others for their short-comings, but encouraging them to make the team better. And that was all I ever wanted, but more importantly - that was all THEY ever wanted. Because when you go into a relationship thinking, what do I get out out of this, it’s already doomed. It’s the prevailing attitude of “well I deserve” that builds animosity. And like I’ve said many times before, you don’t deserve respect - you EARN respect. And you earn things by investing time, energy, effort, and you get back trust and respect. 

If you’re a shitty and selfish person who refuses to communicate their feelings in a healthy and productive manner - well, then you deserve to be in a rotten and terrible relationship because that is what you have earned
And if you’re a loving and compassionate person who goes out of their way to make your partner feel loved and appreciated - well, then you deserve to be in a healthy and fulfilling relationship because that is what you have earned.

You get back what you put in. You deserve what you earn.

And that was all I ever wanted. Someone who I didn’t have to tell how to love me because they were already busy doing it… and I was loving them in ways they never thought they deserved. 

Because they had earned it. 

That’s what friends are for.

I took a sip of my latte and waited for her to finish talking. I was doing my best to listen but I already knew what I wanted to say and I just wanted her to stop talking so I could blurt it out. I wanted to hear her. Like, really take in everything she was saying because I could see just how much it was bothering her. She stopped talking and I let her take a breath then took another sip of my latte so I didn’t look so eager to interrupt. 

"You know what a friend’s job is?" I didn’t even wait for a response. "It is their job to ask how you day is going. What you’ve been up to. How that project you’ve been working on is going." 

You ever have those moments when you have so much to say but you have to carefully narrow down the words so it doesn’t just come across as incomprehensible word vomit? Like you have the perfect sentiment to respond with but you can’t get the words out of your mouth fast enough. 

As calm as I could be, I said, “What I realized was that so many of the people I had thought were friends were simply people who I had shared common interests with. That the people you call friends should complement your life and inspire you and motivate you and care about how your life is going. Not just sit around and discuss bands and drama.” 

The older we get, the more intelligent we become. Because we’re all curious people with a desire to learn and try and simply by following that pattern we are destined to become better people over time. The longer we stay curious and refuse to allow addictions to impede our emotional evolution, we will continue to make realizations and grow as a person. And another side-effect of this is gaining confidence. And the more confidence we have, the less we listen to those insecurities that live in our head and our hearts. And the more we do that, the more the room brightens and we begin to see the people we have surrounded ourselves more clearly. And sometimes we realize that we have surrounded ourselves with people to make us feel less alone. And there’s nothing wrong with that because we all needed it at some point and I guess they just stuck around because they never wanted to go out alone. We needed people to listen, to be there when we were down. To pick us up and cry with us and make us feel better about our short-comings. There is a decent sized list of people, without whom I would not be alive right now. 

And those people were and are my friends. Those ones stayed - they didn’t simply stick around. They made the cut. Because they asked. They genuinely cared about me and my well-being and helped me out when I needed to be picked up. 

Unfortunately, the majority of people I have called friends throughout my life have been nothing more than acquaintances with similar tastes in music. And sometimes music was a lucky coincidence to connect with an amazing human being, but most of the time it was simply another person to add to the list of “people who keep me company while I’m bored.” 

I understand that most of you have lost friends along the way. Sometimes it hurts just as bad as a break up. Sometimes it made you feel more alone. And sometimes you just wanted things to go back to normal. But I want to let you know that it’s okay to outgrow people. Just because someone has been your friend for years, doesn’t mean that you should feel any obligation to keep them around if they have become negative or toxic. If they no longer ask about your day, your life, and the projects you’ve been working on, well then I hate to tell you - you’re not their friend anymore. And sometimes we’re the last ones to know. 

The great thing about the light and clarity is that you will find yourself with new friends. Stronger bonds. People who you no longer have to wonder if they are your friend because they are excited to share in your life. People who have different beliefs and musical tastes and it won’t matter because they want to be there if you fall. And people who know that sometimes interrupting tattooed punk rock dudes who are so excited to have the opportunity to help you make sense of life actually look forward to your late night drunken phone calls. 

Because that’s what friends are for. 

Hey predictive text, it’s not 2004. 
Let it go.

Hey predictive text, it’s not 2004.
Let it go.

The right choice, the wrong choice, and the only choice.

She asked me if I thought I had made the right choices in life. 
I paused and said, “You know, it’s not just a yes or a no question - because both would be a lie.”

We’re compelled to respond one way or the other because we want to project the idea that everything we do is deliberate. We could say “no” because we’re all self-aware enough to realize that probably somewhere around half of all decisions we have made we know weren’t positive ones. One’s that progressed our lives in a healthy way. One’s that injected compassion back into the world. We look around at our lives and realize somewhere around half of all of our decisions cause stress, terror, worry, and regret. That’s if we’re being honest with ourselves. But if we allow those words to fall from our mouths, that is to admit we’ve been wrong. Impulsive in judgment. Faulty. That we are not in as much control as we let others to believe. 

Or we say, “Yes, every decision I’ve made brought me here to the person I am today so I wouldn’t have changed a thing.” But that’s a lie as well. That’s just some secondhand bullshit we regurgitated from that super posi graphic we reblogged last month. One designed to make us feel good about all of our decisions so that we stand with shoulders squared and chins raised, with a face that proclaims, I have followed my heart so who I am is exactly who I am supposed to be. But ask yourself that same questions while you lie in bed at night tossing and turning in the dark and I guarantee you will have a very different response. This is it? This is your best? You sure you would have wasted all that time in that relationship, at that desk, at that job? You sure the energy you gave out and never received was well-spent? I’m not saying you would have been a different you - but with better decisions, more effort, and trying harder, there would be a better version of you. But we want to believe we are exactly who we are supposed to be, but let’s be honest - that’s just ridiculous and short-sighted.

I continued, “I could either be a pessimistic liar or a naive liar. Either way, neither would be true.”

Truth is, we do our best. No, that’s a lie as well. You don’t do you best, and I certainly don’t do my best. Sometimes I try. That’s about as good as it gets. Yes, I do my best to demonstrate my love and emotions and I do my best to be friendly and compassionate. I try. But do I do my best all the time in all the right ways in all the important scenaios? Hell no. Because after a cold hard and long as look in the mirror I would hate to think that this is me at my best. And that’s what I want you to do today. One full minute in the mirror, just staring at yourself and thinking about who you are and what you have become. Right at this moment. Forget about your accomplishments and indiscretions. Forget about your plans and goals. Right now. Is this the best you can do? If you can literally do better, then no. You are not doing your best. 

So now what?
Well, I don’t know. I’m not you. My job isn’t to fix you. My job has always been to simply push you into a mirror. All I know is me. And for me, well, all I can do is to try. Because you can’t expect anyone to be making all the right choices at all the right times for all the right reasons. Who has that kind of energy? I mean, sometimes we need to eat like crap and make out with the wrong people and read novels about dragons and sleep in late and call off work to see a band and spend hours watching online videos of people being idiots. 

Because you and I are not perfect and we need to stop allowing the expectations of others steal away our light and our fire. Your parents, your coaches and teachers and priests and neighbors and judgmental friends and me - we aren’t perfect either. No one is. None of us. 

She said, “So what is true?”
I felt compelled to either lie to her or lie to myself, but instead, I chose to tell the truth and said, “I made a lot of bad decisions along the way. Those bad decisions made me who I am. I made few good decisions, and a bunch of decisions I thought were right but changed the course of my life, but am I the best version of who I am supposed to be? Absolutely not. But I tried and kept going. And as long as I keep trying most of the time, that’s all that matters.”

I told her it wasn’t about the right life choices, it was about the right life. And the right life is one where we keep pushing forward. Mistakes, inconsistencies, and triumphs - just keep moving. Stumble but don’t stop. Push through the bad choices, bad sex, wrong turns and wrong partners. 

Because the only right choice in life is to try. And keep trying.

My day.  (at Riot Fest Chicago)

My day. (at Riot Fest Chicago)

Two former Arma Angelus bass playerz.  (at Aragon Ballroom)

Two former Arma Angelus bass playerz. (at Aragon Ballroom)

This guy once told me I can’t go on tour with him because I’m bad luck and I break up bands. He was serious. I agree with about half of this list.

This guy once told me I can’t go on tour with him because I’m bad luck and I break up bands. He was serious. I agree with about half of this list.