A Divorced Guy’s Guide to Living Left of Bang

I work for a small tech company in the Pittsburgh-area. The stuff we do is complicated and the companies we do it for have names for which 90 percent of the population wouldn’t be familiar. 

We recently brought on a guy to lead our cybersecurity practice, a serious-looking, seemingly omnipresent ex-Military fella from San Antonio. 

This guy is the real deal when it comes to security. He either knows exactly how it works or has seen it happen enough to get the idea. He worked for the National Security Association back in the day and sometimes started and ended his day in the White House.

This guy is no joke.  

He led a team that was responsible for ensuring the safe air travel for the President of the United States of America. This guy was responsible for making sure the President’s plane took off, stayed aloft, and landed without incident from a cybersecurity standpoint. 

If you spend enough time with him, you’ll quickly get used to his habitual use of terse, grave-sounding, military-serious language for things. He uses words like “nation-state” and “paint the target”. When he talks about getting somebody to admit they have a security issue, it’s “calling their baby ugly”. 

I can’t get enough of this stuff.   

Another thing he says a lot is “left of bang”. Left of bang is a U.S. Marine Corps term that comes from a program that’s all about recognizing warning signs of impending danger. The term entered the consciousness of the general public when Patrick Van Horne, a former active-duty Marine, used it in his book Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life. The book lays out the program in military-style detail, providing guidelines and instructions for detecting the warning signs or indicators for impending danger.  

How I Explain Left of Bang

It all works like this. 

Events — any event — can be mapped out on a timeline. At the direct center point of the timeline, equidistant from Point A and Point B, is the event’s actual occurrence. The actual thing that happens — the injury, the attack, the negative happening — falls directly in the center of the timeline and is referred to as “Bang”.  

From a military standpoint, bang is an attack, a dangerous event, a point of damage. In our everyday realities, it can be any event — an argument, a fight, a parade, anything you can imagine.  

For police officers, it’s an armed robbery. For teachers, it could be a student failing a test. The specifics of a “bang” is different for everyone, but it’s usually negative. 

To the right of the bang on the timeline is everything that happened after the event. It’s the following action, the consequences, and how we respond to the event. All the “reactive countermeasures” as  they say in the military occur here. In the general population, this is where we deal with what happened. Reaction and recovery lives right of bang.  

When you’re sitting in jail after committing a crime or in your room because you’re in timeout, you’re living right of bang. 

Conversely, the left of bang are the moments that precede the event — all the things that led up to it happening in the first place. 

This illustration of events applies so very well to cybersecurity because we hear about the “bang” on the news more frequently than we’d like and get to live out the right side of the timeline. 

Hackers break into networks and security events go “bang” at banks, hospitals, retailers, and government entities with uncomfortable regularity. Then we get spokespeople from entities with big important names on CNN and Fox News for a couple of days, explaining how our personal data was accessed or banking information compromised. 

The news cycle revolves, the story fades, and news of a new attack flashes on the screen. The bang reverberates and we experience it all over again. 

The big lesson of Left of Bang though is that events don’t just occur out of the blue. There’s things that provide insight to the eventuality of an event — warning signs of the things to come — that are living in the left of bang. These redflags are sometimes easily recognizable and let us know that we’re heading towards an explosion. 

It’s interesting to think that hindsight lives right of bang. As a thing, it occurs after the bang. Still, it’s the brain’s way of trying to show you things you should’ve noticed left of bang. 

Cybersecurity is an easy thing to pick on when it comes to avoidable events. Weak passwords, uneducated humans, and keycards laying around for anyone to pick up are the living, breathing examples of left of bang. 

So what can the concept of left of bang teach us about handling relationship issues. What can it do to help us deal with divorce? 

How Divorced Dads Can Live Left of Bang

Divorce is one of the most significantly challenging things a person can experience. It changes literally everything in your life.

The house you lived in — the place where you’ve spent the last number of years trying to build a family — is different. The “homeness” of your house has lost its luster and now it’s a property that might be sold. 

Children in the most critical developmental stage in their lives have to hit pause on playtime and learning so they can deal with challenges related to their parents relationship problems. 

Divorce goes off like a bomb, the thunderous explosion decimating the normalcy and cadence of homelife, sending shattered pieces of everyone’s lives in hundreds of directions. 

If you’re on the receiving end of the divorce, if the decision is made for you, the aftermath of the detonation can leave you in a state of shock.

You’ll enter a mental forest of confusion, a heavily wooded expanse where you’ll brush up roughly against jagged trees and stumble over thick roots as you navigate the initial phase of your divorce in a haze.

For days after, you’ll be dazed and confused, hurt and angry, wandering lost through a forest of confusion searching for answers as to what the hell actually happened.

Sometimes you’ll glide through your days with the grace of a zombie, having conversations with people you’ll forget having minutes later. Other times you’ll stomp through your time an angry, volatile mess. 

Covered in the dust and debris of your past marriage, still reeling from the impact of the blast, you’ll spend your days asking “Who I am?” and “How could this happen?”

Here’s the thing about asking those kinds of questions — they are totally normal. You’ll ask them — you’ll keep asking them — because they are your brain’s way of trying to work out something you need to learn.  

When the initial shock wears off and the dust just starts to settle, when you the fog in the forest lifts slightly and you’ve come to accept what’s happening, something remarkable will happen. 

You start to reflect on your marriage, happening upon it throughout your day, finding it to be a tree in the forest that is unlike any other. It will stand out in stark contrast from the rest, having a reflective, mirror-like surface despite its deep gouges and scars all along its exterior. 

And while the tree’s time has seemingly passed, it still stands in the forest as a reminder of something that once was. You’ll catch glimpses of yourself in it’s reflective surface and sometimes another person too, though that other reflection is hazy, inconsistent, and eventually fades. 

The relationships we have grow like trees from the ground, their trunks becoming thick and strong and branches flourishing over time to reach towards the sky.  

If this forest represents our individual lives, sometimes bright and clear in the good times, other times foggy, confusing and frustrating in the bad, then the trees are like the big things. They represent the relationships we’ve had, past and present, and our friends, both living and dead. They are the jobs we’ve spent years doing and the hobbies we’ve enjoyed.

The things two people did to make that tree grow still remains like the memory of the marriage in the forest of our lives. The thing tree isn’t going to fall overnight. It’s a reflection of the relationship they shared. 

If you’re like me, you can take that tree and learn from it. Study its surface. Wrap your arms around it and shake it violently. See what falls out. 

When you do, tiny little needles may fall from it’s branches, pointy and brittle, sharp and hurtful, like the words and nasty things you used to say to each other. Whole sections of branches may fall, landing with a thud on the forest floor with the weight of the arguments you used to have.  

Some seeds and cones may hit the ground, reminders of vessels that once carried ideas and promises of a past life. Other times, you’ll stumble upon fruits, once rich and colorful, now beginning to turn gray into a fading memory of the best things your relationship produced.

One of the best things you can do after a marriage explodes violently in your face is to revisit the relationship, look into its surface, shake it by the roots, and study what falls out. This is how you learn.

There’s invaluable lessons in failure — even in a marriage that ends in divorce. Analyzing the things that didn’t work in a relationship will provide you with the tools to not let that happen again. It’ll let you see into the future and recognize trouble ahead. 

It’ll give you foreknowledge of the oncoming next explosion. It’ll let you live left of bang.

When You’re Ready to Shake the Tree, Grab a Pen and Paper

If it helps, when you’re ready to stand in front of that mirror tree and get some learning done, literally grab yourself a sheet of paper. Did you ever make a pros and cons list to help make a decision? This is a lot like that, except on the left column you’ll write “What I Did” instead of “Pros”. 

If you’re thing is computers, then crack open a new document and get after it. Personally I think it’s way better to hand write these kinds of things because smashing the backspace button repeatedly to remove a memory is way too easy. 

Committing things to paper in ink has a bit of finality to it. My late buddy Adam would cringe when I did crossword puzzles in ink. I did it mostly to irk him. 

Once you’re ready, you’ll literally start listing out the things you did to contribute to the downfall of the marriage. You’ll write out all the times you messed up, all the things you said, and all the stuff that you feel horrible about admitting. 

If you feel yourself having a hard time writing something down, it’s totally worth writing down. If it feels awful and is tough to scrawl on paper, it’s vital you get it out on paper. 

The harder it is to admit, the more worthwhile it is to face. As soon as you get over admitting it to yourself, you can face it and move the fuck forward. 

It’s a lot like learning how to swing a golf club — the more awkward it feels at first, the better it is. Write that down. 

If you’re in therapy — and you totally shouldn’t worry about getting help ever — you can share this stuff with your therapist. It’ll be fun to say, “Look at all the stuff I need help with!”. 

When you’re finished writing your “What I Did” list, you’ll have a sort-of personal punch list of things you’ll want to improve. It’ll be like a roadmap of improvement to making sure you don’t make the same mistakes twice. 

But it’s another thing as well and perhaps this is more important. It’s a list but it’s also physical evidence that you’ve put some work into better understanding who you are as a person. Congrats, you’ve put forth an effort in self improvement. 

Go grab a donut, you’ve earned it. 

Now, remember those questions you had as you were wandering lost in the forest of life? Remember when you were saying, “What the hell happened?” and “Who am I?”. 

Boom, here’s answers. 

Your lists of “What I Did”  will inevitably point out what happened as well as go a long way of explaining more about the person that did those things. 

Next, on the right side of the paper, start a column with the header “What They Did”. 

Marriage is a partnership — it takes two to pull off — so this is where you’ll list all the things you think your partner did to contribute to the demise of the marriage. It’s important to be honest when you create this right side and also, be constructive. Put some serious thought into assigning blame for things. If you’re doing it right, you’ll end up going back to the left side to add more things about yourself when you dive into what your partner did wrong. Oftentimes in marriage, there’s equal culpability in fault. 

In any event, nobody is going to learn anything from name calling and throwing stones. It’s just you and a sheet of paper. Won’t you feel stupid for yelling at a sheet of paper?

The deliverable is a list of things you want to change about yourself as well as things you want in a relationship going forward. There’s the things you did that you want to improve as well as the stuff you want differently from a partner. 

Neither is going to be easy, it’s not going to happen overnight, but at least you’ve got a plan.  

Putting in the work to have this plan is important. Statistics say that every marriage following a divorce has a great chance of failure. You’ve got to think that happens because someone didn’t learn the first time. 

Going into something — anything — without a plan is like setting yourself up for failure. 

Without understanding how you contributed to the downfall of your first relationship, you’re undoubtedly doomed to repeat the process in the next. If you don’t analyze what went wrong in the first relationship from a partner perspective, you’re probably going to make the same mistake twice. 

And you’re not going to understand what you want — and need — in a relationship if you don’t learn from the first. 

The work you put into understanding how your divorce occurred, from the things you did to the partner you picked, will help you avoid problems in the future. 

And if you’re one of those people walking around after divorce saying they will never date again, then you can stop all that right now. 

People deserve to be happy and life is better together. 

Nobody ever, ever goes to the water park alone. Did you ever see someone doing the speed walk to the water slide without a partner? The answer is no because water slides are better enjoyed together — just like life. 

Also water slides. Water slides are the best. Don’t give up on water slides in life. Put on your bath suit and have some fun before it’s over. 

Life is better together. Put it on a T-Shirt and sell it at the fair. It’s a fact. 

In the future, when you’re on dates with people, you’ll be armed with your mental list of things to avoid. You’ll recognize habits from your previous marriage like red flags signalling danger in the forest. Conversely, you’ll recognize healthy behaviors for what they are and embrace them. 

You’ll get into relationships and inevitably, mess up. You’ll find yourself acting in ways you used to, remembering how it led to arguments and angry times, and you’ll hear the ticking of a bomb in the distance. You’ll get a chance to readjust your actions and avoid the explosion. 

You’ll stay left of bang. 

The Covey Quote Thing

I like to quote Stephen R. Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, because it’s one of the greatest things I’ve even picked up. I’d have a copy of it laying around if I didn’t constantly give mine to people I meet.

Regardless, when it comes to learning, Covey said this:

“To learn and not do is really not to learn. To know and not do is really not to know.” 

Now, there’s a ton of “No shit” in that quote but the proof of its worth is evident in our inability to grasp its value. 

In divorce — in any relationship really — there’s deep value in learning from your mistakes. You can get better at not doing  things again and recognizing what danger looks and feels like. We can progress if we move past our errors. We can avoid landmines by recognizing the warning signs.  

We can stay left of bang by recognizing it and if we get really good at foresight, we can learn to navigate hardships without first having to experience them in the first place. 

Imagine that.