On the spiritual path, there’s nothing to get, and everything to get rid of. . . . The first thing to let go of is trying to get love, and instead to give it. That’s the secret of the spiritual path.
—Ayya Khema, “What Love Is”
In the company of friends, I talk a lot about how I met my sweet woman. We both talk about how “the time was right” for both of us. And how “the stars or gods aligned in our favor.” And to be sure, we are both very prayerful and thankful people. And each morning when we wake up together there is a lot of gratitude between us, for us, about us. And there’s more. There’s another element that came first, that bonded us in a way that no previous relationship or marriage had done before, for either of us.
Spiritual and Kinda Religious
When you are alone, everything in your world is colored by your own internal thoughts and feelings. And your strategies and prayers are your own alone. When you join with another person, you’re songs and prayers add a “together” element that I believe is transformative. But let’s take a few steps back and explore what made our meeting so timely and so connective, what was the through-line that was so strong between us even before we met for our first date.
Seeking, Longing, Looking for Love
When there is an absence of love in your life, for many of us, it is like a missing piece of our soul. The term “empath” has been getting a lot of play lately, in describing people who feel into others empathetically. And what I’m well aware of about myself is: in the absence of a love relationship my experience of joy, passion, and elation is greatly diminished. I glow more brightly when I have another person to resonate with. So in my seeking, post-divorce, I have been looking for a resonance in both physical and spiritual terms.
So you set out on your noble quest to find a new relationship. In my case, I set up profiles on a few of the online dating sites. (eHarmony – nope, give me the ability to browse people, don’t tell me who you think I match with; Match.com – a bit better, larger audience, fairly interesting profiles, and you pay, so you’re looking for something; OK Cupid – my favorite site, because of the random and often revealing questions, it’s free, and has a lot of people who are just playing around, not looking for a relationship.)
And for the record, I had a few dates via Match and OK that were interesting. I learned several things about myself in my first rush at “getting back in the game.”
- I was not interested in casual sex.
- I was not able to feign interest when the person was boring.
- A lot of profiles (pictures and stories) are outright fabrications.
- A lot of people are playing on dating sites, but have no intention of dating.
I had some interesting insights in filling out my several profiles. Eventually, I hit on one that seemed to attract the right mix of women. Interest in a LTR and actively pursuing their own dream, project, agenda. I was clear, I was not all that interested in “dating.”
Dating to me means several things:
- Actively in pursuit
- Not looking for commitment
- More interested in entertainment
- Drinking was part of the focus for 90% of the daters
- Interested in lots of dates, lots of entertainment, maybe playing the field
And the first real relationship I had was from Match.com. The first contact was from her to me. (Very rare.) When I was non-responsive, she followed up with a second email that said, “Hey, I was looking at your profile wondering why we hadn’t gone out on a date yet and then I realized, hey, this guy didn’t respond to my email. So I thought I’d ask, ‘What’s the deal? Is there something wrong with my picture or profile?'”
And this first relationship changed everything and eventually set me up for success later down the path. Girlfriend #1 was a tiny bit older, wiser, and a few more years down the road of the post-divorce routine. But most importantly, she shared the same love language: touch. BOOM, a light went off during our first week together.
In two marriages combining into 17 years, I had never felt as adored and loved as I did with this woman. She easily engaged in hugging, holding hands, and other physical signs of affection. And just like me, she reaches out for that touch *all the time.* And she was also comfortable expressing her affection verbally. She would just tell me, “You are so damn cute.” Like, out of the blue. And every time I heard it, I was surprised. “Me?” And the really surprising part was how infrequently I heard that during the entire course of my two marriages. Touch is language number one, but words of affection also play a strong role in my constellation of what “feels like love.”
The Nearest Miss
There was one missing ingredient for me in this first relationship. Something that didn’t immediately click. And since we had both been through a divorce recovery class, we had a label for what had happened. And she even predicted this outcome in that first amazing week at the beginning.
“I may be the healing relationship for you, and that’s okay,” she said. “I’ve had mine, and I know what I’m looking for. And I’m okay if this is just a crush. Let’s see where things go and not get too far ahead of just being together.”
She was right. As I reignited with the proximity of her physical affection and began to find my inner joy again, I began to look beyond the present moment and into what relationship goals I had, beyond her. In the moments between Christmas and New Year’s Day, we found the space to separate without a whimper. We both knew it wasn’t *the one.* And we were both committed to finding *the one.” And with that, we also wanted each other to have the best relationship for them. We had breakfast the morning after we “broke up.” I remember a few tiny tears, but mainly the big realization at how much I loved her. And when the romantic relationship was out of the way, I could fully feel my adoration of her. We’re still friends, confidants, and virtual wingmen, as we encourage each other, even now, to get what we really want.
Reset and Rebuild
I went through a year after breaking up with her before I ran into my next girlfriend. But the year in the middle involved a lot of rebuilding and remembering what made me happy. On that back porch, with girlfriend #1 she asked me, obviously aware that I was struggling a bit, “What do you look like when you are happy? What kinds of things do you do?” Those two sentences became my mantra over the next year. I hit the online sites again and went out on a few dates, with no real connections. And repeatedly learned that an evening drinking a glass of wine with someone who wasn’t even a near miss was a true waste of an evening. I slowed down my efforts to find my next date.
And I started looking at what things made me happy. I reconnected with my music and started looking for musicians to play with again. I started attending a tennis workout several times a week. And I started a focused walking program in the foothills around my house. I was building the new me. I was determined to become the happy me, the one who would attract the next girlfriend rather than have to go out advertising myself on Match.com.
As I was starting to “feel my oats” in spite of some financial setbacks I crossed paths with my next girlfriend: the tennis player. We flamed up and flamed out fairly quickly, but she also taught me a few valuable lessons that made my real relationship so much more obvious when the right woman came along.
With girlfriend #2 we had the physical spark that had been missing in my first relationship. And we had tennis. That was enough to keep a lopsided relationship going for a good bit of the summer. But something was amiss. And this time it was easier to pull back when the signs became more obvious that the “relationship” was something I wanted but she didn’t. I was willing to create 90% of the connection in order to keep playing tennis and keep up the illusion that we were building a relationship. We were not building a relationship. And when I was able to see this, I was also able to say good-bye without anger and to affirm my ability to break up well.
The Turning Point
This second relationship showed me what was missing from the first relationship, and showed me my own blind side of being the over-achieving optimist. I was willing to overlook the dysfunction in the name of the relationship. But that’s not how it’s supposed to go. And I knew it wasn’t working out, but I continued a few more cycles of passion-breakup-passion-breakup before I opted out.
And at this point, I made a fundamental shift. I was going to take my dating profiles down. I was going to work exclusively on my own program of becoming a better tennis player, a better more confident musician, and a more confident me. I made a fundamental shift away from pursuit and back towards self-work.
My idea was, I wanted to become the person who she would fall in love with. I even wrote a poem to her, before I had any concept of her, almost as a prayer.
The interesting part of the equation, the part that must have something to do with a higher power (Or maybe it’s just “timing.”), was how my new girlfriend (fiancée) had been traveling down a very similar post-divorce progression in her life. And we both hit on the “no more playing around at relationship” idea at about the same time.
It turns out we’d been “friends” on Facebook for 5 years. And it turns out, she had noticed me at a party 5 – 6 years earlier and made a note of my disinterest. (This is exactly when I was entering my divorce, so yes, I was unavailable and unapproachable.) And then a few amazing things happened.
- I got a Saturday night gig for my band and was working using all of my energy to put on my musician coat of many colors.
- This interesting woman “LIKED” my gig announcement on Facebook and began to put out notes about her support of the gig.
- She went on a spiritual retreat a few months before the gig and confirmed that her current relationship was not working. She’d been doing the 110% routine as well and was done with the dysfunction.
- She took a pre-gig nap and slept right through the gig. (So the eventual meeting was delayed.)
- She put up a picture of a fancy bottle of Scotch and celebrated the silliness of her ex-boyfriend and the benefit of giving a gift you wanted for yourself.
- I contacted her via Facebook about the post, pointed her to this blog, saying I’d been writing about breakups and dating for a while.
- She responded via Facebook with an invitation
Turns out I had hipped her to the blog a few weeks earlier. And she was planting the real seed. The road map to my heart had been well documented, at least in theory.
The Spiritual Message:
The first thing to let go of is trying to get love, and instead to give it.
And that’s the moment that we began reframing out future ideas while including some other person in the picture. I had been writing constantly about not dating and going offline, and real-time. I had also been writing almost daily love poems. The poems of desire, I called them. But they were also like a call for someone to answer. Like this fragment from, “burning up in prayer”
I had also enlightened her to the other blog and somewhere along the way she decided that these poems were painting the outline of her. So she architected the “tennis” message at just the right time.
Timing Is Everything
So, is it timing or god that brings us together at the perfect moment?
I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know this: someone can walk into your life and change everything you’ve ever wanted or imagined you wanted. When that happens you are either prepared for departure and flight or you are not. The first time my sweetheart crossed my path I was in no mood or frame of mind for anything beyond my own sad story. When we crossed paths the second time, she was well prepared with my trigger words and actions. And I was broadcasting on all channels my desire for a partner to step up and be enveloped in my madness.
The wash and rush of our relationship surprised us both, but we accelerated into the good feelings and absence of red flags. There was/is nothing holding us back. There is growth and adventure ahead, but there is mostly our joint willingness to join with and appreciate the other person’s circus. Our prayerful thanksgiving throughout our daily lives together, merely affirms what we feel and hope.
My path was winding and long, but here are the basics.
- Learn what you really need in your relationship
- Learn what you must jettison from any future relationship
- Keep focused on your own life, your own growth, your ripeness
- When the moment arrives, be fearless in your commitment to love fully
- Stay in the present moment
- Listen for and discuss issues as they arise
- Celebrate the spiritual and physical connections in your life together
- Press ever onward and upward together – limitless
Any divergence from this path is a distraction. If you want the relationship you’ve hungered for, settling for anything less my teach you some valuable lessons, but you eventually have to move on.
I wanted a relationship. I didn’t want to spend time “dating” or trying to impress someone. I wanted a woman to show up in my life fully-formed, fully-empowered, and fully-ready to take off with me. When I was prepared to give myself in the same way, and when I had decided to quit pursuing the dating thing, that’s when I was ready. That’s how we knew we were both ready, we had both been expressing the same desire for the *next* relationship.
Reference: What Love Is – by Ayya Khema
[This post previously appeared on The Whole Parent blog.]
image: an early valentine, creative commons usage