As a yogi, I’m expected to actively work on not being such a neurotic mess, which is a shame. I’m a really good neurotic mess. Seriously, I’ve won prizes and been celebrated by friends, boyfriends, and my parents for my ability to stand in my own way. My powers of over-analysis are unparalleled.
Meditation is a wrestling match that I almost never win.
So at 34, I’m starting to venture into the self-help aisle of the bookstore. For a former English major, this is akin to purchasing Monistat at the pharmacy. You know it’s good for you, but you sure as hell don’t want anyone to see you buying it.
Or reading it. I recently read a book about loneliness. The title of the book was simply “Lonely.” This wasn’t a book I wanted people to see me reading at a coffee shop. Can you think of a more pathetic sight than a lonely girl sitting all alone reading a book called “Lonely.” No, this was a book I saved for private moments. Of which, clearly, there are many.
That is why I snuck up to the counter of a local bookstore to buy, if the Buddha dated: A Handbook for Finding Love on a Spiritual Path by Charlotte Kasl. It’s a book that a friend gave me years ago during a dark six months of the soul. I thanked her and buried the book in the recesses of a box I later gave to Goodwill. I don’t recall the Buddha having had an ‘Ok Cupid’ profile or going to a ‘Single Cinema Lovers! Meetup.’ If he had, I guarantee he would not have a peaceful mind or a contented soul.
One thing is clear to me after having dated for eighteen years: practice doesn’t equal perfect in the dating world.
As I get older I accumulate more scars, more bad memories, more fears. Cynicism is the engine of my bitter, broken heart. So, this book that I had previously tossed off seemed like a life raft. I was too worn out with the whole thing to resist.
And did it help the self? It’s filled with advice that’s sound and rational, and, sure, a little bit hokey. There is a lot of talk of creating autonomy within partnerships, which seems like a good idea. Having realistic expectations is a key point. Also, communication is crucial. I think I can agree with all these things. Then there is the chapter called “When to Trust the Power of Attraction.” This is where I got stuck.
Interestingly, according to Paul Pearsall, the biochemical response to constant infatuation , being “in-love,” leads us to produce large amounts of epinephrine, which creates chronic autonomic feelings of restlessness and nervousness.
The author goes on say that “love-sickness” is in fact, just that. What starts as butterflies in the stomach, can end up causing enough anxiety to wear down your immune system until you are actually physically sick.
And all this time I thought it was my body’s way of trying to point me in the right direction. I’ve always believed in the school of thought that said that passion has to be painful. You are supposed to respond in a very dramatic way to a potential partner, and that means you should feel overwhelming anxiety. Basically, you should feel like crap.
I was reading a journal I had written a few years ago when I met a man who would become my boyfriend. It’s filled with both decelerations of smitteness and concerns over my physical health. Rashes, sore throats, and an old case of sciatica were the hallmarks I remember of our time together. I wanted him so much that it made me infirm.
And this wasn’t the first time. I could track it all the way back to seventh grade when I would perpetually throw up before gym class because I knew I would see Aaron. I can still remember how perfect his teeth were behind that silver retainer and how nervous his smile made me. I also remember the cold bathroom tile on my knees as I hurled my lunch into the toilet. Young love is nauseating, isn’t it?
And in the midst of reading this dating guide, I somehow managed to start dating someone I liked. I knew that I liked him because I started to break out in hives on my chest, and I had a raging case of insomnia. I was tired but wired, happy but about to snap at any moment. Wasn’t this what I’d been missing for all those lonely chapters? Ah, love-sickness.
Or not. Having read this book, I began to look at my reaction to a new relationship in a different way. Instead of giving in to this perfect storm of physical and emotional reactions, I actively worked to quiet my mind. I went to bed earlier, knowing I would wake up around 3:30am from insomnia. I chose to get my work done instead of spending every moment with him. It was important to resist the urge to dive into this experience that we call “love-sickness,” as tempting as it is.
I would like to stay centered and fall in love and keep the contents of my lunch. In order to do that I may have to get a bit self-helpy from time to time. I may have to exercise restraint. I may have to be, God forbid, slightly boring. If I ever miss feeling butterflies in my stomach I can purposely get food poisoning and pretend I’m pining again.
Editor: Lindsay Friedman