Unusual Advice on Love
I remember about five years ago, sitting down in the Mission District of San Francisco to a first date with a man whose online profile showed he was romantic, smart, and spiritual. What his profile didn’t say was that he had published a few bestselling books on dating. A few books. And yet, here he was, sitting next to me, single as any of his readers. I couldn’t have crafted a better example of irony. Our first date was our last. It just felt strange. In seeking out advice on how to manifest love, we should ask those in happy relationships. Right? Maybe. Maybe not.
Today I listened to two friends tell me tales of romantic woe. One of my friends, let’s call him John, is heartbroken because the woman he just divorced is digging her feet into a new relationship – a new relationship with the man who he caught her cheating with, a man who’s shown visible aggression towards John. The other friend, we’ll call him Michael, is baffled after a woman in his life broke off their romance one month in, via text. There were no signs she was unhappy with him, so it surprised him, and left him rattled like an earthquake.
My friends always want to talk to me about romance. If they are single, they know I’ll have a good ear, and a few different perspectives. They know I’ll be able to empathize. If they are coupled, they get excited to listen to stories of my own romantic (mis)adventures. Right now in my life, I’m three dates into a new romance, and my hope outranks my fear. As my two friends above will attest, I’m as often as not rolling in the high of a new crush. Last month I went on dates with five different men; a teacher, a doctor, a cook, a business manager, and a law student. When I met the last man, I tried to slow down the game. This man is kind, affectionate, funny and curious. Slow down, I keep telling myself. On my second date, he laughed at me as I kept saying “stay present self!” Where else would I be? Ha!
I don’t do slow well. How do you not constantly touch or talk to someone who feels like twinkle lights in the middle of a dark arboretum? And even as this man has given me what I’ve asked for, a slow pace, my mind spins into tales of panic. What if he rejects me? What if one of us gets bored? What if I am broken in a way he can’t witness? What if we’re not right? And at times more frightening, what if we are right? After years of education, including two graduate degrees, analysis has become my Olympic sport. But what I’m learning is that I have to ditch this when it comes to the most important things in life.
I always go crazy trying to predict what will happen, trying to do things “right.” When something feels good, I get attached. Even when it’s only in my mind, I hold on tighter so as not to lose it. I sometimes strangle the very love I’m making. But at this point in my life I feel different. I made a commitment this year to love myself best. I didn’t know what that would mean, but I knew I hadn’t been doing it. And I knew I must. Honestly, since that decision, everything has changed for the better. Last winter I felt so broken and alone. I’d run up against some heartbreak or other every fall for ten years. I didn’t know anyone in the world who’d dated the way I had, or who to ask for help. Finding a date was always easy, creating love was nigh impossible. I sought advice from friends, books, support groups, and therapy. I tried everything. None of those plans, gimmicks, or strategies worked. I couldn’t ask anyone else to love me if I didn’t love myself. I know, bring on the Velvetta. But it’s true. At the end of my wits, I made my proclamation. I might destroy my life, but I would save it in the process. Last year on New Year’s Day, at my friend Aaron’s house in Portola, I said it aloud to a group of maybe ten people. It wasn’t a New Year’s resolution. It was a new life resolution. To imagine I was worth the dreams I had dreamt for so many years was uncomfortable. To trust that I would become the person I wanted to be felt insane.
In the year since, I have traveled the world, made amazing new friends, and ditched a career that felt like a B+ next to the all-star A I wanted to earn in life. Right now I’m taking a yoga teacher training in Seattle, and it’s one of those unexpected gifts. It feels like more than that. Since I’m not towing my heart behind in a radio-flyer wagon, what I’m learning sinks in. I didn’t know that I could pinpoint emotions as physical things in the body. In reading the Yoga Sutras, I’ve learned to aim for non-attachment. Non-attachment means being present to what’s going on, and recognizing it’s not under your control. It’s called practice for a reason. It’s hard. Letting go of outcomes can feel like buying a glass of expensive pinot noir and leaving it unattended at the bar for an hour. Let’s just see what happens. WTF? Yep. Chances are, it’ll still be there when you come back.
I don’t want to go into ownership or destiny or any of that. I don’t understand it. I don’t even get intimacy in a monogamous relationship. Yet. But I do get that this shit is hard. And I do get that it is work worth doing. I have been exploring my romantic shenanigans for as long as I remember. I am obsessive about love. I am romantic to a fault, and terrified of heartache. I know all the reasons love doesn’t work. What I didn’t know was how it did. I didn’t know that love could one day be for me, and that, in a way, it already is.
So thinking about that man who authored the books I never read on love, I have had to see a new layer of truth. Being single doesn’t invalidate him. His input is just as valid as anyone else’s, and maybe more so than most. I’ve taught English to teenagers for near ten years. Next to my friends who teach at Stanford and Columbia, I am small potatoes. I know how to explain the juicy concepts, and nurture growth in the young people I teach. But I can’t name twenty writers who lead the charge of deconstructivist thought. I can’t cross reference themes of imperialism in multinational writers beyond what I’ve read for fun. It doesn’t make me any less qualified to teach. Being successful at a thing has no bearing on whether you can explain how to be successful at that thing. The ability to communicate well is its own gift, no matter the content. Maybe I am just as good, if not better, at love and romance than some of my married friends. Maybe being single has no bearing on whether I understand how to listen, grow, and share mutual support with someone.
Any of us who failed time and again know the defeated sigh that comes with not achieving the thing we want. But love is not something to be achieved. It is ours from the get go. Some of us forget that. When my friends feel broken, they know I have been there, and call me to vent or to get a new perspective. The dating expert I met on my date had ideas just as valid and maybe even more useful than those of my happily coupled friends. I am the same way. You are too. We all deserve love. For those of us who have felt it to be absent, love will be that much more enriching when we step into it. And that’s where I am right now, stepping into it. It may work with my new crush. It may not. But I’m in love with me, and listening to myself. That matters more than what anyone else says.