Archive | Open-hearted

All These Paths, Leading To The Same Place

You thinkers, prisoners of what will work:
a dog ran by me in the street one night,
its path met by its feet in quick unthought,
and I stopped in a sudden Christmas, purposeless,
a miracle without a proof, soon lost.

But I still call, ‘Here, Other, Other,’ in the dark.

William Stafford, “An Epiphany”

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[That is one of my favorite poems by William Stafford. He was an unsung word genius.]

I read something a few weeks ago and had an epiphany. One of those moments when everything – years of practice, a fragment of metaphor, and a spark – comes together and you realize something important. I was reading a quote by Pema Chodron, a famous Buddhist nun and meditation teacher. She wrote, “Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already.”

And in the moment I read that, I suddenly understood something about my various spiritual practices over the years: they have all been about me trying to accept myself.

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I grew up Protestant (American Baptist, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ) and in that tradition, humans are sinful. They are full of sin because of the choice Adam and Eve made to eat from fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. What that looks like in modern terms is being regularly told that I was bad everywhere but in my soul. That I was inherently ‘not good’ and ‘less than’ and ‘blackened by sin’ (and a whole bunch of other Bible verses I’ve forgotten twenty years later…). With only one exception*, I don’t believe much good comes from the Judeo-Christian spiritual path; we certainly have plenty of evidence that it causes war and hatred and I believe it stems from this basic understanding of our selves as inherently bad.

After years of being a good ‘Bible-thumper’ I left the church because the world it spoke of as inherently wrong, bad, and sinful was not the world I experienced. The world I knew was full of amazing things and people and choices. I had girlfriends who had successfully weathered abortions, read re-interpretations of Bible stories, and enjoyed a drink with a couple of gay people and those things made it awfully hard to believe what was in the Bible, and what was being preached about it, anymore. Like a lot of people, I left and headed East.

For many years I studied the Tao te Ching, having been introduced to it in a college class about Eastern literature. I found it delightfully simple and also satisfyingly deep as I spent time with the verses and ideas. There was precious little dogma, interpretation, and certainly no mention of ‘sin.’ It felt like a good place to settle. And for a few years, it was.

I travelled other paths: Paganism, Unitarianism, Shambhala Buddhism, Tantra, Witchcraft. I’ve changed paths often. I became an ordained ‘interfaith’ minister (which I’m not sure is even a thing, but I’ll talk about that at another time). I have travelled around to various paths, texts, and rituals because they served my spiritual needs at various places along my path. And also because I love to fall in love and this was a way to connect with different ‘partners’ at the table of religion and spiritual development. (Today I see that there are appropriation problems with that kind of spiritual path, but that’s for the another post, as well.)

All of these spiritual paths were most definitely about me finding pieces of myself inside those traditions, texts, ideas, theologies, and metaphors. But my epiphany is that my most important paths have been about self-acceptance.

 

Photo by Jens Lelie on Unsplash

 

I’ve meditated for close to 20 years. I’ve used various forms, but mostly breath meditation (although I have used more sensual sub-genres of breath meditation at different times). For many years, I used the RAIN method, where you Recognize, Accept, Investigate, Non-Identify with whatever thoughts or feelings you have during meditation. But it was in reading Pema Chodron’s words about befriending ourselves in meditation that I really came to understand its purpose was far more soft than I had been experiencing it. It was about accepting myself, the totality of myself. To be who we are, in compassionate acceptance of ourself- whatever that self may be experiencing. Meditation was about completely accepting myself internally.

I’ve mentioned before that I am a practicing witch (the intensity depends on the day and the person, though- heh). And magic has been something I have been playing with for a long time, as well. My magic mostly involves words: rituals, prayers, handmade soliloquies spoken into the void. Only recently have I taken instruction in the more modern facets of witchery. And the one thing I learned there is that good magic involves self-acceptance. Magic that does what you want it to do involves acknowledging the totality of all that you are in the world: sinner and saint, angel and demon, mother and whore. I can be good, very, very good. And I can also be wicked. If I pretend to only be light and love, my magic sputters and doesn’t get very far. But if I acknowledge and accept all that I am, my magic is far more powerful. Magic, of course, is about how we are in the world and how the world reacts to us and our desires, to our energy and our vibe. And so magic has been about accepting myself as a human in the world, moving from internal to external.

Tantra has been something I’ve only picked up in the last five years or so, and it was most definitely about accepting myself and my sexual needs and desires. In some ways, this website has been partially about spiritually bypassing my sexual desires and needs – and Tantra is one way to both accept and bypass sexual darkness. I can’t say this blog has been entirely about bypassing, because I have certainly shared my pain and frustration and growth here, as well. But Tantra has been about self-acceptance inside of relationship, especially intimate relationship. Tantra is about the balance and alchemy of masculine and feminine (not the same as ‘male’ and ‘female,’ please remember). And my path inside of Tantra has been about accepting and balancing not just the masculine and feminine within myself, but also the dark and the light. I can be the most fun, delightful, loving sexual partner, and I can also want to live out dark fantasies (starting with having an affair, which I used to want desperately. Also remember that what is ‘dark’ is different for each person; my personal ‘dark’ might bore the fuck out of someone else). Tantra has been about accepting myself inside of intimate relationship.

Beyond each of these paths – to accept myself internally, to accept myself as part of the world, and to accept myself inside of partnership – there is something else I find incredibly valuable: Western psychology. (I am most familiar with Western psychology, but other modalities of healing the psyche are equally useful and valid. I have used food, prayer, movement, and many other tools to heal myself and others; I am for ‘whatever works’ to heal people.) Most of us wrestle with some piece of ourselves that feels ‘broken.’ And perhaps we do have ‘broken’ pieces inside us. When we do, psychological tools are often useful in helping people heal (again, I am a firm believer in using what works, even if that isn’t in the professional literature). Our brokenness is often not our fault (trauma is rarely something we do to ourselves), but we are responsible for healing our brokenness once we know about it.

Knowing about our brokenness is key to self-acceptance, I believe. But we must also know that sometimes our dark, our ‘bad,’ our ‘shadow’ isn’t brokenness- it is just a part of us that needs awareness and acceptance. The same awareness and acceptance we give to the parts of us we are pleased with or that are accepted in public.

Having this epiphany about self-acceptance and realizing I’ve been on quite the search for it has brought me a lot of excitement and calm in the last couple of weeks. If what I have been looking for is self-acceptance, there is no need for a spiritual path. Learning to accept and love myself is the path. So, all this time, I was just looking for pathways and guidance to leave behind the belief that I was bad and sinful and dirty and begin to trust in the whole of myself. Yes, there are broken bits that need fixing and healing, but there are also parts that are simply waiting for me to accept them, because they aren’t broken, they’re just judged.

And, of course, the great joke from Life is that this is the gift I most easily give other people: acceptance. Whatever darkness you feel or fear, I will listen to it and love it and accept it, without judgement. It’s so easy to give others the medicine we most need. (And so I am also a giant cliche. But, I think we already knew that.)

I will definitely continue with meditation, magic, and Tantra, but now I know what they are in service to, and where to place my energy. I suppose self-acceptance is my path now. I am grateful for the strange and varied path that got me to this place, and I feel a deep sense of grace in knowing I’m not ‘sinful’ anymore. Jung was so right about acknowledging our darkness rather than hiding from it, there is both power and grace in that acknowledgement.

I love you, beautiful people. And I want you to know you’re good, even when you’re bad.
Big love,
Joanna :: xoxo

 

*I believe that spiritual paths are suitable to different levels of psychological and spiritual development. And Christianity, as it is practiced in the West today can be useful to people who need a benevolent (hopefully loving) and also parental-style experience of god. For instance, people who are in recovery. Having a god that both loves you, wants you to do well, and will punish you if you don’t can keep people with addiction issues on the straight-and-narrow. But that’s about the only place I’ve seen it be as useful as it can be; many other places Judeo-Christian concepts and interpretations have caused a lot of fear, shame, and depravity. There are folks who are stripping off the parental piece of Christianity and evolving it into something more accepting and, honestly, Christ-like. People like John Pavolvitz and Nadia Bolz-Weber. But this article on Satanists also gives me hope.

 

 

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Making Old Dreams Today

This past Saturday, my husband and I attended our senior prom. Not a joke! For the last four years we’ve been going to something called the “Grown Ass Prom” in our town. It’s a night for adults to dress up, have a good time, drink (!), and do what they actually wanted to do back when they were 18.

One of the reasons I love going is because there is an element of ‘pretend’ about it all: adults are re-creating a past event to make the memories they wish they had made years ago. For instance: going as your true trans self, taking your gay or lesbian partner and getting those terrible prom photos together, taking your partner who you didn’t know in high school. And dressing how you want and just having a really great time doing whatever you want because you’re a fucking adult now who knows what they like. Not to mention the guarantee that you’re going to get laid afterwards. It’s glorious.

So, this was our fourth year attending. Our ‘senior’ year. And it was definitely the most fun we’ve had because we knew what we were doing and we knew how to make the best of it.

Our first year was about creating the memory of having prom together because we couldn’t have done that when we were 18. At that time, we lived in completely different parts of Washington state. My beloved is also three years older than I am, so it was highly unlikely he would have looked at me twice in high school. (He says he would have, but I disagree.) We tried to fit the ‘prom’ mold from days of yore.

 

This is the best of the photos, so I’m going with it. 

 

My own Lloyd Dobler.

 

We wore matching outfits. I wore something that looked like a ‘prom’ dress from the 1990s. It was my first few months into treatment for hypothyroidism so I didn’t feel great and it sort of shows. But we had a great time dancing (one of our favorite things to do together) and it felt like we had gone to prom together. We made a new memory we wished we had from our past.

Our second year was even better. I was feeling very normal, thyroid-wise, and knew exactly how I wanted to look and feel. I bought a leather dress, black pumps, and got my hair done in a mohawk (fauxhawk). I looked and felt exactly the way I wanted to. My husband looked fucking fabulous as his ‘Adam Ant’ self. We both felt like our own best version of ourselves.

 

I also wore a pair of black Chuck Taylor’s, cuz who dances in heels?

 

I had a vision of love / and it was all that you’ve given me…

 

This second year wasn’t about completing some old/new memory as much as it was about being who we were to the Nth degree and just having a good time. We danced our assess off; the husband took home a dancing award.

Last year was our third year (junior year!) and we had a group of friends to go with. This year we were energized by going with our friends for their first time with Grown Ass Prom. My thyroid was on the fritz again last year and so I also wasn’t feeling 100% myself, but I had a good time picking out some leather-look leggings and pouring myself into them. The husband went ‘balls to the wall’ with his outfit- threw on one of everything and owned it. He is a fashion badass and a risk-taker and I love him for it. He also won Prom King for his dancing skills.

 

Red-lipped and ready to dance.

 

Wearing all black does not make you look taller.

 

I think the thing I learned last year was that Grown Ass Prom was better than Halloween for me (which is heresy in New England). It’s better than Halloween because I can choose a new part of myself to explore that doesn’t have to be appropriate for taking children trick-or-treating or keeping me warm. I can play with being vampy or sexy or dominating or punk or whatever. It’s one night where I can be what I dream and see how it fits into my everyday self. And I took that knowledge into this year’s prom.

This year I have basically felt like shit, body wise. My thyroid is overproducing antibodies which blocks one of my medications and so it doesn’t work as well as it should. In the last 4 years I’ve lost half of my hair and gained 10 lbs. I still have a decent amount of hair and I still look cute in clothes, but I don’t feel comfortable in my body in the way that I did the second year of prom. And yet. I feel more sexy, alive, joyful, free, and satisfied than I have in years. Prom this year was about expressing those feelings, even if my body didn’t feel like I wanted it to.

 

Dreaming and doing.

 

Luckily, the shirt comes off.

 

Senior year: the photographer remembered us.

 

It turned out exactly like that. I loved my outfit- gradually lost the white shirt as the evening wore on because corsets are fucking warm when you dance (didn’t know that before!). I loved my hair and makeup and felt like a million bucks with my prom crew (now nine of us!). It was a wonderful night. [Except, swear to g-o-d, the DJ has sucked every year and this was no exception. Four years of terrible DJ-ing. How is that possible? I don’t know, but it’s true.]

While, technically, this was our ‘senior’ year of prom, we will definitely go again. We might try another venue- I think there is one in Massachusetts and one in a different location in Rhode Island, but we will definitely go to one. It’s too much fun to let it pass us by.

I think the thing I most want to say is that it’s important to keep growing and changing and having places to try out who you are. Because I’m not who I was at 20 or 30 or even 40. There is a throughline of consistency, but I am different, and better, than before. Prom gives me a place to play out different roles and experiences with myself, my husband, and my friends, and I think we all need safe places to do that. As well, making memories and meaning of our life is foundational to feeling we have lived well. We need to feel that we have done things we enjoy, feel proud of, lived in alignment with what we most value in order to be proud of our life. Prom is one of the things that helps me make meaning of my life and feel that I have lived joyfully and well.

 

 

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Just here, with love.

 

Photo by Erik Holm on Unsplash

 

Hey gang, how are you?

I just realized today that when I’m happy or busy, I don’t post as much. Ha! So, there you go. Life is being really good to me right now and I’m enjoying it. I have a theory that once you’re doing what Life wants you to be doing, life gets easier and better. I could be wrong, but that’s the way it’s worked for me, even in the rough times.

So, I shall have a proper post tomorrow, but it’s been on my mind and heart to just post a few simple things for the last few days now. Here they are.

Please, know that you are not alone. Whatever Life is throwing at you, you have people (me, if you need it!), you have places, you have love, and you have support in unknown places if you are feeling alone or adrift right now.

Be yourself. You’re the only you we’ve got. It takes all different kinds of stained glass to make those beautiful stained glass windows and works of art. Be what you are. Be who you are. We need you exactly like that.

For the most part, I love you. I don’t love people who are assholes or selfish or put themselves above others, so if you’re in those categories, you can fuck off. But otherwise, I love you (agape, not eros; I’ll let you know personally if it’s eros). And if you need to know that someone out here gives a damn, I do. I genuinely give a damn about you.

Rough times pass. Things change. My favorite meditation teacher says everything changes in the span of 30 breaths. So, give yourself 30 breaths. And maybe a glass of water. Or a nap. The only constant is change, and things will change.

If you are feeling confused, that is O-K. It took me 15 years to learn what to do with confusion: don’t beat yourself up about it. If you’re feeling confused, just let it be. The more settled you get, the more you just listen to your own life, the more you find ease and joy in the simple things and get calmed down, the more likely the confusion is to find its answer. Berating yourself for being confused does not make it better.

I am hoping for your best. I always end my prayers with the phrase “with the highest good for all”- and that’s for me and everybody else. Sometimes the ‘highest good’ looks more like ‘dealing with painful shit’ but that’s okay. You’ll get through it. Keep going, keep holding on, and keep reaching out for help.

Lastly, always, and again: I love you and I care about you.

Blessings to you all, fellow travelers,
Joanna :: xoxo

 

 

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Some things about grief. And love.

Off and on for most of this week, there has been a song playing in my head. It’s “One Sweet Day” by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men. It’s a song about missing someone who has died and how the belief that they live on (in heaven, in this case) brings comfort and a hope for eternal reunion.

Now, admittedly, I have been listening to a bit more Mariah Carey than usual. She’s been a reminder of Spring to me this year (also, my entire summer fashion aesthetic stems from her clothes in this video). But this is different. This song has been invading my head. It’s not like it just shows up out of the blue. It’s more like the song is insistent- it shows up and I can’t quite get it to go away. I try to think of another song, but this one comes back.

This isn’t a weird thing for me, in some ways. I have strange ‘gifts’. I can find lost things for people I care about. My Dad once asked for help finding a ring of my mother’s. I could see the ring and told him what the surroundings were like- dark, green, soft. He found it in his green truck, in a small, velvety pocket. I’ve ‘found’ other things- important pieces of clothing, lost papers, old mementos. (I sometimes wonder if I am attracted to people, or they are attracted to me, because some part of them is lost and I know how to find it again.)

I’m not sure how I came by this gift. I have looked at being empathic, being highly sensitive, being intuitive, and being slightly psychic. My spiritual guide says I’m a highly sensitive person, instead of empathic. I suppose it doesn’t matter what the label is, I still can do the thing.

Another thing this ‘gift’ does is it sometimes pushes back at me. It’s like I have a very wide, sensitive net around me and sometimes I can simply listen to what’s going on in the strings, but sometimes things get caught in it. Like this song.

Now, I don’t think this is some kind of direct revelation, a la The Bible. I think it’s simply my psyche taking in some information from the ethereal web and translating it into something I identify with. So, somewhere, someone I know is probably dealing with grief right now. Maybe they have experienced grief lately, maybe they are just surrounded by it. I don’t know. I also don’t know who it is- I’m connected to lots of people emotionally and I’m not sensitive enough to know who it is specifically (believe me, I wish I could know sometimes. At least then I could tell people to watch out for X or help them deal with Y). But whoever you are, this is for you.

 

Photo by Masaaki Komori on Unsplash

 

When I was in college, I worked at a nursing home as CNA and I saw people die. I sat with them at the moments before, during, and after their death. I washed the warm and cooled bodies of people after they passed. The first time scared the shit out of me. Every time after I volunteered, because I knew I would be gentle and patient, where others had not been.

I have seen the moment of death be full of fear, anxiety, anger, frustration, fight. I have also seen the moment of death be full of acceptance, calm, love, relaxation, strength, and curiosity. Please do not equate the ‘good’ moments of death with ease. Difficult dying can still bring peaceful moments. People who die by suicide are some of the strongest people I have known (they misguidedly think that their death will be a relief for themselves and others, which, of course, it isn’t). [It would be misguided of me to not say this: if you are considering suicide, please take the time to call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. And please consider these stories from people who survived jumping from the Golden Gate bridge; their difficulties became workable and so can yours.]

One thing that was clear at all the deaths I have been a part of is that the moment after, the moment when the brain is quiet and the lungs no longer expand or contract, is a very peaceful moment. It is a relaxation of everything. The final breathing out that lets everything go. It’s over and everything can begin to settle and unfold. It is the end of life, but the beginning of death, which is a very peaceful (and active) process.

There are belief systems which state that what we say or think at the moment of our death impacts our karma in the next life. Other belief systems state that our souls are whisked away to some other place in another plane of existence after death. Of course, other belief systems state that we go nowhere, simply returning to dust and dirt. Based on my experiences, I am a firm believer in the First Law of Thermodynamics: that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only transformed. I believe we get transformed when we die. (I do believe in reincarnation- there is simply too much evidence for it- but I think the remembrance of past lives is a rarity.)

All of this is to set the ground to point towards grief. Because there are many kinds of death in this life, not just the ones involving the loss of physical life. And they all involve transformation. I believe grief is the work of transformation for those who are left behind.

Despite the model of the Five Stages of Grief, we all know that grief is anything but linear. Grief is something that may grab us when death first arrives. Or it may sit quietly near us and just…exist…for a good long time. Sometimes grief dissipates quickly, like an insect bite that heals quickly. And sometimes grief is a deep, heavy burden to bear that almost refuses to budge (this seems to be most true when grief opens the door for longer-term depression). Grief has its own way, its own time, its own color and rhythm and intensity. For each death, grief is its own dance. For some, this dance is haggard and horrible. For others it is difficult, but graceful. It depends on what our hearts have the resiliency to deal with.

One definition of grief that I love comes from Susan Piver who wrote The Wisdom of a Broken Heart. She wrote that grief is love with no target. Our love, whatever it may look like, leaves us and roams around the places inside us, inside our life, where we used to connect with someone or something that has died. And because it ricochets, it touches us, over and over again.

This idea has comforted me greatly for the seasons of grief in my own life. I have also experienced that grief tends to come and go, sometimes arriving quite unexpectedly. My grief for a great grandmother who died when I was seven only returned to be fully felt when I was 15. Every year when I see snapdragons I have a ‘ping’ of grief for my grandfather’s death. A friend only grieved for her grandmother after her dog and rabbit died in the same week. For some, grief is a box they carry in their heart, always. For others, it is a cloud that comes to sit with them on important days and anniversaries. In my experience, grief does tend to dissipate with the years, the weight is not as heavy. But it also never quite goes away. It can heal, but the scar is still something we can run our fingers over, even if it does not hold the pain of the open wound.

Whoever you are out there, the one who has connected with me in such a way that your song of grief pings back to me, I want you to know this: grief is normal. It is also strange. And it is a journey only you can walk through, but you should not always walk alone. Let those who love you carry you sometimes- you don’t have to tell them the whole story, just let them comfort you and support you (make sure they are not stuck in their own grief, because this can drag you both down). Grief can heal, but it will also likely sting in places you never expected. It’s okay to feel the sting; feeling it is the only way to get through it. Grief is also a way to see how much we loved the other person, experience, idea, dream, whatever. Try to love the love. It is what’s best about you and your relationship with the one who passed.

Perhaps it is strange that all this should come from a Mariah Carey song being stuck in my head this Spring. But perhaps not. Because even as I write this, there are petals falling from the trees in my back yard, already dead and dying. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed. And all we can do is be glad to be alive, living through all of it.

Big love to you all, most especially to those who grieve,
Joanna :: xoxo

 

 

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What I Will Tell My Son

I mentioned in a previous post that I had been thinking about what to tell my son about dating and sex and love recently (besides ‘use condoms no matter what,’ ‘ask permission,’ and ‘be kind’). I mean, I’ve actually thought about it since he came home in 3rd grade with a crush on his teacher, and we’ve been very committed to building the foundations for good relationships and…eventually…sex. But I’ve been thinking about some important wisdom I want to pass on to him. This is what I’ve got so far.

 

Photo by Sabina Ciesielska on Unsplash

 

Date.

I grew up in a time when people actually dated. Two people, going out somewhere together, spending time getting to know each other. I know that the generations coming up behind me brought us the ‘group’ date, where there was a clutch of kids who hung out together and some paired off from time to time. But that’s not the same as dating. And neither is Tinder.

I’m going to tell him to date. To practice asking a person out (and being both accepted and denied). To figure out who pays and how that works with each person. To learn the logistics of how to find fun things to do and how to compromise on what is chosen. To know, from the first few moments, that the date is going to suck and then remain polite and friendly and get out of it quickly. To learn to let someone down when the feeling is not mutual and to accept it when he’s not someone’s cup of tea, either. To enjoy the infatuation stage (because it’s so fun!); to learn to fly and laugh and do silly, stupid stuff in that stage, because it’s good to lose your mind in love sometimes.

But also to practice taking one step at a time. Especially when he first starts out. To go out. To get sweaty palms when you first hold hands. To get all awkward with the first kiss. To learn who the other person is, and let them learn you. To wait…a while…until they have sex. Because sex is an entirely different ball game (sorry) and there is no going back to ‘holding hands’ once you cross the line into sex. From the side of life I’m on, it’s important to have steps between ‘hello’ and ‘I’d like to sleep with you.’ Those steps keep your heart safe, your mind less confused, and your energy less entwined should things fall apart. And, god knows, dating and being a teenager are fucking confusing enough.

 

Sex is energy exchange.

I grew up in a fairly religious household and I was told to wait until I was married to have sex. I obviously didn’t, but one thing I recognize as being part of this rule is that sex is important because it is an energy exchange. Tantra is very clear about this- when we engage in sex, we are connecting to some of the most intense (sometimes hidden) energy of the person we’re with. And that can be great, but it can also be a mess. (I spoke about this some in this post– beware, it is about rape.)

I want my son to know that whoever he sleeps with will leave some of their energy with him. Even if it’s just a little. Even if he barely remembers sleeping with them. Some part of them will stay with him. And therefore to choose his lovers wisely. This is not to say that everything has to be deep- sometimes a good one-night stand or a quick fuck can be a fantastic energy exchange. But just to understand that some part of it will stick with him. And to think about that before getting it on.

 

It’s good to have your heart broken at least once. 

Because, my god, does it give you compassion for people. Whether it’s unrequited love or a full-on break up from a much loved relationship, we all need to do it. We need to feel the pain of having our heart smashed to smithereens and learn how to heal from it. That is probably the most important piece- for him to learn how he handles a break-up and to learn to take care of himself when it happens. Whether that’s a bit of depression (more than 2 weeks and you need to see the doctor, okay?), or a fuck ton of Doritos and Netflix, I don’t care. But he needs to learn this.

Also, a good break-up can help us learn how to be better at loving and relating the next time around. I will do my damnedest to help him figure out what went wrong, take responsibility for his part in it, and learn to do better next time. But only after the Doritos and the sad songs and the weeks in sweat pants.

 

Learn from good men.

My son has a very good role model in his father. A man who communicates and grows and listens and isn’t afraid of his own needs or soft side. I am grateful for this. My son also has other types of men who he admires and respects. I know he will learn good things from them about relationships (of all kinds).

But I’m also going to point him towards people like Jayson Gaddis and Bryan Reeves, who know their shit when it comes to being in long-term relationships, how to fight well, and how to learn and grow in relationships. I will tell my son that the most important things he can do and learn for romantic relationships is communication and personal growth. Because men who don’t grow will get left behind in love. I believe the men in his life will also show him how to be courageous in relationship, which is also important.

 

If it’s wishy-washy, let it go. 

If there is a relationship where my son gets together, breaks up, and rinse, repeat x 10,  I will tell him what I know as a minister: these relationships never do well in the long run; let it go. I’ve performed marriages for a fair amount of people, and the ones who decided to get married because they’d been engaged and broken up 3 times already or because they needed to ‘fish or cut bait’ don’t end up married for long. It almost never works out in a healthy, happy way. There is a subtle but hugely important difference between someone who wants you and someone who just doesn’t like the feeling of your absence.

So I will tell my son to let her go. To go through not only the break up, but also the understanding that someday she may invite him to her wedding, and he will have to revisit this shit all over again. Or that she may call him in five years, a different person, and he’ll have to go through all the receipts from the fist time and say no with a heavy heart. I will hold him and help him as he goes through the birthing of himself out of that relationship (because there is a lot of crying and gnashing of teeth and ‘I don’t know which way to turn’- I’ve been there) because that’s how it goes. The heart is a house with many rooms, and some we have to leave unwillingly (this is how we develop strength). Because wishy-washy is not what works; knowing and choosing is.

 

When you know, choose her. 

The men I know who are happiest in their marriages had two things happen when they chose their mate: 1- they ‘knew’ sometime within the first few weeks or months that ‘s/he was the one’ and 2- they chose their mate, clearly and purposefully. My husband says he ‘knew’ because he felt so good around me, he felt lifted up and supported and seen. We had our rocky spots, but he knew he wanted to choose me, and he did. One other man I know said his wife smelled right to him. Whether that’s biology and pheromones or just a hint of cinnamon because she’s a cook, I don’t know. But he ‘knew’ and he picked her.

The other item is so important I cannot tell you. Some men choose their partners based on practicality or ‘shoulds’ (‘I should choose her, she’s so smart and pretty and x, y, z’), but those relationships tend to go sour after a while. I think it’s because they aren’t choosing the other person from their gut or from their own truth or knowing or deepest desire; they are choosing from some outside metric and that’s no good. The men who have chosen a woman from something they sense inside themselves (it’s sometimes as simple as a clear, deep ‘I want to be with HER’), those are the relationships that last. And I think it’s because when a guy chooses, he sticks to that commitment. (I could be wrong, but that’s my experience.)

I will tell my son to listen to his own knowing. And when he finds the one who smells right or makes him feel the best or whatever, when he knows, to pick her. And to do it over and over again.

 

True love changes.

True love is when the type of love Person 1 gives most easily is exactly the type of love Person 2 is craving *and* when the type of love Person 2 gives most easily is the type of love Person 1 is craving. It is a heady fucking combo and it feels like safety and flying all at once because it’s so easy to give and it feels so good to get exactly what you want. And if he should find that, I will tell him to hold on to it and do the work of a lifetime so that it doesn’t leave him.

How we give and receive love changes with age and healing (if we do our work!), which is why communication and personal growth are so important. But the couple who can honestly discuss what’s going on for each of them, even when it hurts them or the other person, is the couple that will last. Going through the growth together is what counts. Certainly, it may not last. Humans are made to have 2-3 long-term relationships over the course of their life. But if he can communicate and grow and seek to grow together, he can be proud of what happens, even if that is the dissolution of the relationship.

I will tell him I know this because it is the work his father and I have done for 22 years now. We fell into this kind of love- true love- but we also became best friends and decided to do the work (sometimes the really fucking hard, painful work) of staying together and growing together. We always want the best for each other, and that is what has made it work for us. Our happiness is somewhat linked to the other’s happiness (it’s a healthy dose of co-dependency, not the hurtful kind) and we take the other person’s needs and dreams seriously. And we have also had three fights where we almost got divorced and handful of other fights where one or the both of us figured out we needed therapy (because the root of our problem was not ‘us’ but our personal past or trauma). Sometimes keeping the couple alive means healing individual wounds. I will tell my son this.

 

Be yourself and find the one who loves that.

There are ideas (and memes) floating around that say we have to love ourselves before someone else can love us or that we have to somehow get over all our shit before we can be good in a relationship. These ideas are both bollocks. Because while a decent level of self-respect and self-esteem are pretty key, being in relationship is going to bring up a person’s shit and there is no way around that and no way to preempt it with therapy or self growth. There just isn’t. Relationship is its own cauldron and you have to let the fire of it change you (hopefully into something more refined).

There are hard things I am going to have to let my son learn on his own. He will learn boundaries by not having good ones, which is okay as long as he has a good community safety net to help him. He will learn to not play games by playing and getting tired of it. He will have to learn that being honest with himself and his partner is paramount by fucking that up, too.

Jayson Gaddis taught me that life and relationships are a struggle between wanting to be ourselves and wanting to be loved. And we sometimes hide pieces of ourselves so that we can be loved. So I will tell my son: find someone you can be as much of yourself with as possible, find someone who will listen to and love the truth of you. Provide the same in return. Stay communicating and honest about who you are and who you are becoming so that you can have both a strong sense of yourself and feel loved.

::: ::: ::: :::

I’m sure this isn’t all I’ll have to tell him. And certainly these lessons will come as they come- some at 14, some at 24. But I want him to learn these things earlier than I did so he can have a better chance at longer love.

What wisdom do you have for the young-and-in-love?

With gratitude,
Joanna :: xoxo

 

 

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