As a writer who writes about all the “big stuff” we face in our lives, I have shied away from one topic for a long time—love between two adults. I’m single, and have been for a long time, so I fell into the trap of thinking that only married folks—more specifically, those who are happily married, or have been married for a long time—should write about adult love. So I blogged about family love instead—loving my daughter, my parents—and more recently, about self-love.
But back in December, as I peered around the corner into the New Year, I decided that I wanted to change my long-held stance on what I should and should not write. I had to recover from too many years of listening to literary agents and editors tell me that writers ought to have demonstrated expertise—or an enormous marketing platform—to legitimately write on a topic. And so I promised myself that in 2011, I would write from the heart, and as fearlessly as I could. I also vowed not to self-censor—because finding to courage to write about the stuff we fear most is how we writers affirm our delicate souls.
So here is my story about love. I met a handsome and delightful man sometime last year. And for the most part, I did what I do best. I opened to him and we had all sorts of wonderful adventures together. And then, satisfied with what I had learned and experienced with him, I turned my attention to making him fit into one of the Love Boxes that might apply to a single man in a single woman’s life—boyfriend, husband, best friend, colleague, neighbor, drinking buddy. But I couldn’t check one of the boxes. None seemed to fit. And the more I tried to squeeze him into one, the unhappier we became. The magic disappeared. If it reappeared, it did so in small spurts, in ever decreasing quantities. If we continued down this path, I knew we would destroy all of the goodness of “us.”
“Happiness lost” is one the most painful experiences I’ve ever known. Because deep down you know that you were solely or partly responsible for the loss. You know that the alchemy of the relationship changed because you couldn’t let go of your need to control or re-shape what it was. You know you let your impatience or insecurities take the wheel instead of gently forcing them into the backseat.
I sat with my “happiness lost” during many meditation sessions before I felt ready let go. Not to pretend to let go and then find more subversive ways to get his attention but to really hand the matter over to the universe and trust whatever transpired. I was finally willing to accept any range of outcomes—from not seeing him again to re-engaging with him. Then I let go, and waited for something, or nothing, to happen.
Something did happen. We started to email each other—short notes brimming with kindness and topped off with a hint of laughter. I didn’t expect his messages—maybe that’s why they were so delightful. I let the exchanges unfold naturally, without pushing to make plans or probe his emotional mindset. And it felt really, really good.
Then I bought him a Christmas gift. It was a gift offered from the heart, with no strings attached and no expectation of return. He sent me a note after Christmas saying that he loved the gift and then surprised me by making a donation to my nonprofit. I couldn’t have been happier. The magic was beginning to return. But this time, I stayed out of the way.
And then, last weekend, he asked me to attend a small gathering he had planned. I meditated on whether I should go—if I did, I wanted to be clear about my intentions. The only good reason to go was to enjoy myself, not to test him or to see if our connection was still alive. I also knew how much he loved hosting events, and I relished the idea of seeing him happy, even if I wasn’t the sole cause. So I went.
We were mutually happy to see each other. We chatted a little bit, and then I talked to other friends in the room. I was completely at ease—I dressed for comfort not sexual appeal and talked about what I cared about, even if it didn’t make me the center of attention. When I felt like leaving, I left. And as I prepared to leave, he sent me a strong beam of love—the kind that leaves you feeling warm and full, and floating a few inches off the ground.
As I left the party, I realized that I could spend hours analyzing the meaning of his gesture or I could just accept the gift of love. For so many months, I had denied myself this gift with him. My desire for control had left no space for love offered freely, without any conditions. This time I embraced the gift—and it stayed with me for days.
There were so many important love lessons in this experience. Letting go is a powerful tool, so rarely practiced by seekers of love. When I got out of the way, I cleared the path for us to receive what we really needed from each other—companionship, kindness, love. Many spiritual writers describe the importance of letting go, but so little is said about the joy of buckling oneself into the passenger seat. It takes courage to let go but boy, does it ever feel good.
I also began to practice, in small ways, the act of not giving myself away in the name of love. I’m a type-A personality—always impatiently pursuing the “end” and willing to trade off “the means” to get there. But I’ve learned that love has different operating instructions from a toaster. Unless I make it to the altar with myself intact, the love won’t survive or be worth committing to for a lifetime. And I’m learning that when you love yourself, you don’t question whether you deserve to be loved. The two pieces fit together perfectly.
A year ago, I would have viewed this love story as a failure—that I failed to convert a perfectly good prospect into a husband. Today, I see it differently. Here’s how I describe it to myself: Love arrived unexpectedly and I embraced it; then it disappeared and I let it go. Then it returned, and I embraced it again, but much more loosely. And now I have a new box to add to my list: “Loving Friend.” Check.