So I’m going about my life, happily expanding my business and spending quality time with friends and learning how to eat more healthfully and reading really good books, when all of a sudden I’m surrounded by people – friends, clients and, yes, even myself – who are dealing with “relationship issues.” It’s as if, all at once, the gods and goddesses of relationship have decided it’s time for us to heal those old wounds, already, and get on with the business of creating or deepening the relationships we really want.
I’ve observed that more than a few of us are unexpectedly dreaming of ex-husbands and ex-boyfriends we were sure we’d gotten over, getting tangled up in new relationships that don’t quire fit, and fantasizing about that ideal partner who might be just around the corner. We’re trying to figure out why our old relationship patterns keep showing up in different outfits, in spite of our best efforts to discard them for good. But at the same time we feel really mature for allowing ourselves to date people we never would have considered “relationship material” in the past. Surely we’re growing and making progress here? We are alternately optimistic and despairing as we sagely contemplate our relationships past, present and – with any luck – future.
Some of these people have even asked for my insights, given that I’m a transformational life coach and all. A very reasonable request, I’ll admit, and yet…hmmm. Well, I’m a big believer in “following the energy” in life, and with all the energy swirling around relationships, now seems like the right time to write about them.
So here I am feeling a little Carrie-Bradshaw-ish, sitting alone in front of my laptop in my unglamorous sweatpants and writing about…relationships. Or rather, attempting to write about relationships in that Carrie Bradshaw way. I’m playing with all sorts of provocative questions and declarations, trusting that as I explore them I’ll end up writing something that might actually resemble an article. An article on…relationships. And you know what kind of relationship I mean, don’t you? Relationships, with a capital R – the special, I’ve-got-your-back-and-you’ve-got-mine-and-we’re-in-this-together-and-we’re-forming-a-spiritual-partnership-and-by-the-way-I-think-you’re-hot kind of relationship. That kind.
It’s the one topic I’ve carefully avoided writing about in any depth or detail, for a number of reasons that would likely bore you to tears. So I’ll spare you my rationalizations and justifications and admit, right here at the start of my column, that I’ve not written about Relationships because I’m not exactly in one right now. And I haven’t been in a Relationship for a few years. So I’ve concluded that I’m not an expert on the subject and have left it alone.
Well, sort of. In my coaching work I’ve supported clients in opening new ways of relating to their partners that bring greater authenticity and intimacy, and have even helped a few in the process of creating new Relationships. Yet I’ve noticed that, in the world of manifesting our desires, it seems to be easier to lose weight or create meaningful and fulfilling work than to attract and sustain a deeply nourishing partnership. A Relationship.
Now, I realize that what I just wrote is more likely a reflection of my own journey than any kind of absolute truth…and yet I feel a certain truth reverberating in and around it because Relationship is so fundamental to our human experience. How could it not be our greatest challenge and our greatest teacher? In other areas of our lives we can create a vision and set goals and find quite a number of ideas to implement and tasks to complete as we, say, work toward creating greater levels of fulfillment in the areas of career or fitness. There are concrete things we can “do” to build momentum and see forward progress…before we come face-to-face with the deepest fears and false beliefs that demand a profoundly new level of self-awareness, self-compassion and self-intimacy.
Make no mistake about it, any movement we make toward wholeness will call us to self-intimacy. That’s why creating work we love or shifting our relationship with money or finally losing the weight that is weighing us down is, ultimately, a deeply transformational journey. We must finally ask the question, “Who am I, really, and am I willing to be seen?” Any impulse toward authenticity and fulfillment will bring us face-to-face with our true Self, and will ask that we dismantle all the masks and machinations we’ve constructed to hide it.
But in Relationship, that question seems to come up sooner rather than later because, almost by definition, true Relationship demands true intimacy - and as soon as we declare an intention for intimacy we get tangled up in our fears and images and guilt and false beliefs and expectations. Right from the start. Exposing ourselves to another means exposing ourselves to ourselves. (Raincoats are optional.) Which is the very thing we’re trying so hard to avoid.
And I think that’s why Relationship seems elusive to so many of us. Sure, we could form some kind of agreement with another person to, say, live together and share expenses and go on fun vacations and take care of all the “stuff” of life in a fair and balanced way. But if what we’re longing for is true Relationship, then we’ve got a lot more digging to do. How can I possibly relate to another if I don’t know who “I” am? How can “I” be in Relationship if I’m not fully present?
Which might seem to imply that we have to “find ourselves” before we can enjoy a real Relationship, but it’s not really that linear, is it? Because it’s also true that one of the great things about relationships is this: Relationship is where the answer to the question, “Who am I?” can be revealed. We come to know ourselves through our connections and interactions with others. We notice where our pinch points are, and how petty and unkind we can be, and how much we resent that alarm clock going off really early, set for a time when our partner needs to get up but long before we do. Yet we also notice how deeply we can love, how generous and caring we can be – and if we’re lucky, we may even learn to see ourselves through the eyes of someone who truly loves us, and we begin to know ourselves as lovable.
Okay, so it isn’t as if we have to spend gobs of self-absorbed time “figuring ourselves out” before we venture into Relationship. And yet our ongoing responsibility, whether we’re in Relationship or not, is to deeply know ourselves. If we singlemindedly pursue Relationship with a desperate need to figure ourselves out, or to avoid being alone - or to “complete” ourselves, in the overly romanticized words of Jerry McGuire - we burden our partner, and the Relationship, with too heavy a demand. We’re asking someone else to do the work that only we can do. The work of self-acceptance, self-responsibility and self-love. The work of self-intimacy.
And for that work, we don’t need outside experts (which, thankfully, lets me off the hook). We are the self-relationship experts we’re looking for, the authorities on who we really are and what we’re longing to give this world. It is only we who can be willing to know ourselves and commit to our continued growth and evolution. It is only we who can look unflinchingly at the parts of ourselves we’d rather not see – our impatience, our cynicism, our self-righteousness and criticism, our pettiness and suspicions – without collapsing into self-judgment, and then be willing to look underneath those things and find the fear and self-doubt they’ve been covering all this time. It is only we who can courageously examine those fears and self-doubts, and learn to treat ourselves with the utmost respect and kindness as we seek to transcend them. It is only we who can commit to noticing when and how our fears are triggered, and then practice responding not from that reactive place, but from that deeper place of compassion and knowing.
It is only we who can consciously choose to become the magnificent, generous and passionately loving human beings we long to be.
You know, the kind of person Elaine of Seinfeld fame might call “partner-worthy.”
Which brings me back to my friends and clients who are actively doing this work, sincerely and willingly letting go of what no longer serves them and becoming, choice by choice and moment by moment, the very kind of person they long to have as a partner. It’s a brilliant strategy, when you think about it. Because even if our earnest commitment to self-growth doesn’t immediately yield a Relationship, at least we’ll enjoy our own company along the way.
And all kidding aside, this speaks to a deep and profound truth. As is often the case on this journey of living a spiritually conscious life in the material world, we’re faced with a paradox. The longing for intimate communion with another is, I believe, fundamental to being human. It is how we experience and express our innate divinity in human form. And yet, the minute we fall prey to the belief that our happiness and well-being is dependent on a particular relationship – or Relationship – we’ve separated ourselves from the larger Truth that we are one with the eternal Source that created the manifest world as we know it. We are always and already whole, perfect and complete at the deepest level of our being.
So the seeming paradox is that we long for Relationship, but we don’t need it to be happy. In other words, we need it – but we don’t. So which is it? I’ve found that a really good way to resolve paradox is to change the word “but” to the word “and.” So here goes: Yes, we need relationship – and yes, we can be happy no matter what. Isn’t that a relief?
I’m guessing you may be thinking something along the lines of, “That’s nice, Suzanne, and I may even agree with you. I’ve got a life I really love, and I’m happy – but as you say, I also want a relationship. Why don’t I have one?” Well, at least I’m assuming you’re thinking something along those lines – I’m hoping you are, actually, because your question conveniently leads me to the next point I want to make.
So often we ask the “why” question – such as, “Why can’t I attract the right person?” or “Why am I not in a Relationship?” – yet it is rarely helpful. Usually it reflects an unstated fear, a feeling of somehow not being good enough or not doing something right. What remains unspoken beneath the question is a false belief that if we were good enough, we’d have what we wanted.
Ironically, the question itself keeps us stuck because it actively stokes the negative self-judgment we must transcend in order to create a truly healthy Relationship. So let me suggest a different question we can ask when we want to be in Relationship (or when we want to be in a more fulfilling Relationship), but we’re not: “If I trust that the Universe always delivers what I need for my continued growth and evolution, what might be the purpose of this time?”
And then – and this is key – let’s not rush to answer it. Let’s keep the question open and live into it. Let’s practice looking at ourselves and at our lives from the broadest, deepest and kindest vantage point we can find. Maybe the purpose of this time is to practice emotional openness and intimacy in other relationships. Maybe the purpose of this time is to learn how to be alone. Maybe the purpose of this time is to deepen our connection with Spirit or God or the Universe, however we name the vast and eternal Whole of which we are a part. Maybe the purpose of this time is to become even more clear about what we truly want and need in a Relationship. (This one is especially helpful when we’re shaking our heads, trying to figure out why we attracted that guy with all those mother issues.) Maybe the purpose of this time is to practice self love. Or just practice being open to love.
I’m reminded of something a friend of mine told me a while back, something so pure and true it settled, in an instant, all of the whirling and chaotic thoughts that tend to get stirred up when I’m feeling insecure about not being in Relationship. She had been talking to another friend of hers about the perils of opening herself up to Relationship again, after having lived through her husband’s devastating terminal illness and being widowed in the prime of her life. It’s all so risky, isn’t it? There really are no guarantees. How do we know that being in Relationship will make us any happier than surrounding ourselves with wonderful friends and beloved pets and good food and wine and really good books?
We don’t, of course. But this wise friend of my friend responded to her queries by asking a simple question: “Do you want to live your life with your heart open, or with your heart closed?”
I’m making a stand for the open heart. How about you?