I was thinking about how I learned what I know about relationships. Not just from experience, but from advice that resonated, even when I didn’t want to hear it.
The best advice, the advice that worked, and stayed with me for years is all really about mindfulness, presence and non-attachment. (Even though none of it came from Buddhists, and I wasn’t a Buddhist when I received most of it).
I hope that you can take these drops of wisdom into your heart and use them to take good care of yourself no matter what happens in a relationship.
Light and Breezy
Recently, I was talking to a(nother old, married) friend about our dating years. I said I had spent decades chasing, anguishing, and having very few actual boyfriends. She said she’d never really had any issues in that area, aside from the inevitable breakups. She had had several long-term relationships, and lots of dates.
She said this: “I always tried to keep it light and breezy.”
For me, this idea was revolutionary.
It wasn’t that she didn’t care, or didn’t want relationships. It wasn’t that she was playing some kind of manipulative game, like “The Rules” that dictated that she shouldn’t call a guy first, or had to keep him on tenterhooks to maintain his interest.
She just maintained a healthy emotional distance until it was really, really clear that there was strong mutual interest, living in the present rather than in some fantasy of the future. She respected herself, she had things to do, and she was looking at a romantic relationship as a beautiful addition to her existing life, not as the thing that would make that life worth living.
Light and breezy would have rocked my world during my single years, if I had been able to live it. It’s all about the ability to be with what is, in the moment without knowing if you’ll get a call, or make a connection. It’s about being in that uncertain place without pushing, forcing, nagging, or otherwise putting pressure on the delicate filament of romantic potential.
Light and breezy is this: you go three days without receiving a text. You send a message that says “did you get eaten by bears on the camping trip?” because it’s totally reasonable to check in. But if you don’t get an answer, you move on. You don’t send more, increasingly needy or passive-aggressive messages. You don’t spend every minute trying to figure out why you didn’t hear back, and is it because he thinks you’re ugly or is he back with his old girlfriend, and are you going to be alone forever, and oh god he had beautiful hands…you just don’t do it.
Keep it light and breezy, and if it’s coming your way, it’ll come.
Sometimes, a person just doesn’t want anything from you.
When I was in my mid-20s I had my first serious relationship, and although the guy was clearly not The One, I clung desperately. One day, struggling against an overwhelming undertow of foreboding and panic about the whole thing, I asked a male friend what to do. Specifically, I said “what does he want from me?!”
His answer: “sometimes, a person just doesn’t want anything from you.”
I was devastated. I wanted tips, tricks, hints, magic or at least an explanation of how I was misunderstanding the male psyche so that I could come at it again from a better direction.
Truth is, it was the right answer, the best answer and what I needed to hear. The guy was moving on, which was what I was sensing, and he really didn’t want anything at all from me other than a gracious and easy release.
I didn’t let go, and there were months of tears, tortured conversations, and mutual suffering. More months, in fact, than the duration of the actual relationship. Had I trusted my instincts and walked away, I would have felt better about myself and had lovely memories instead of scars.
Sometimes, as hard and sad and lonely as it is, a person just doesn’t want anything from you. And if you think that might be true, it probably is.
Don’t strangle the kitten.
We made friends with a house full of college students. One of them, Joe, was madly in love with someone his entire senior year. First she had a boyfriend, then she was busy with exams and an internship. He never got up the nerve to get past the nervous joking stage.
The night after graduation, they had a big party to celebrate. Joe was the last one sleeping in the house because he couldn’t get a flight home for a few days. The woman he loved was at the party, and agreed to stay the night with him, alone, in the house.
A week or so later, one of his roommates was in town to pick up the security deposit and he dropped by our house to say hello. “What happened with Joe and that girl?!” I asked. I’d been dying to know, hoping for a happy ending. When we left the party, red plastic cups of bad beer in hand, the buzz had been all about Joe’s Big Chance.
“He wrecked it.” The roommate told me. “It was like if you give a kid a kitten and the loves it so much that he squeezes really hard and strangles it. Joe totally strangled the kitten.”
“In one night?!” I pressed.
“Oh, yeah. She was gone before the sun came up. I guess he started asking her it meant that she’d stayed with him, and talking about having a long distance relationship, and he just freaked her out and she took off.”
Skittish animals and tentative emotions need space and time to calm, settle and maybe take root. When you’re lucky enough to have a soft, purring kitten on your lap, remember that you can love it without having to name it, own it or squeeze it to death.
P.S. If you feel like it, please add the best love-related advice you’ve gotten in the comments. You never know who you might help.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise
Photo: Randy Heinitz, Flickr
Relephant bonus: Maitri.
What to look for in a partner:
A Buddhist couple’s relationship with Money:
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