Well Being

Relationships: Falling In Love With Help From Divorce

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Over the last week I’ve learned that four of my women friends are in various stages of divorce. Four – that’s about a third of my yogini friends, all in their 30s. One was horribly betrayed; another is trying to keep her two young kids psychologically intact even though she's feeling liberated; a third is in the throes of triage-level couples’ therapy; and a fourth is spent from years of “eating glass” to make someone else happy. Yikes.

As the irony gods would have it, in the midst of these conversations – listening, nodding, feeling their pain, wondering why anyone would be insane enough to link their happiness to another human being – I’m falling deeply in love for the first time in a zillion years. It’s like cruising by four fatal car crashes during your driver’s ed test.

While I try to open up my bruised self one therapy-backed moment at a time, I see precisely why there’s such good reason to be terrified: Love is fucking brutal.

Which brings us to this week’s Self-Help Lesson: Acceptance! The book I’m reading with B, my cerulean-eyed fellow, “How to Be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving” by David Richo, outlines the Five A’s of a relationship – Attention, Acceptance, Affection, Appreciation, and Allowing (see last week’s lesson, Attention, here). Richo says our ability to navigate the rough waters of approval-seeking vs. self-loving vs. accepting others is based on, you guessed it – exactly how crappy our childhood was: “Our ability to be intimate grows in accordance with how safe we feel, and that safety is based primarily on how authentically we were accepted in early life,” according to Richo.

There’s nothing quite as annoying as a self-help cliché that's depressingly true.

But Richo doesn’t just leave you pining for that aloof mother who may have talked to her girlfriends and smoked Kools while you made increasingly dramatic bids for her acceptance. “Look ma, no hands! Or feet! Or any sense of dignity as long as you love me!” He sites a Buddhist phrase, “the glance of mercy,” which sounds like the opposite of the look the bad parent might give to a disappointing child. It refers to “looking at other human beings with acceptance and understanding.”

Basically, it’s the anti-glare. The googly-eyed gaze people give each other during the first days, nauseating all but you two. Precious because you feel loved, seen, embraced at your absolute best, and exalted through the rosy lens of love. “Acceptance,” writes Richo, “engenders a sense of being an inherently good person.” And that mercy glance says it all: You are good, you are safe, you have all my approval.

When B. looks at me with the 100-proof moonshine of acceptance, I melt like chocolate kisses in the sun. Except for my glinting remaining tinfoil, my built-in love-deflectors. The part that sometimes thinks he’s being sarcastic when he says I’m beautiful. The part that's constantly scanning my radar for a blip of insincerity, a bleep of perfunctory affection. The part that, of course, thinks it must all be a sham – because most of the time I’m not giving myself the glance of mercy, but the glare of unworthiness.

Yet, the other night over cocktails with one of my marriage-dismantling gal pals, I expressed a fleeting desire to run for cover instead of link my heart’s fate to someone else’s. She said, “But what’s the alternative?”

To hear that from someone in the midst of the worst phase of love, the part where your partner’s gaze reflects not mercy at all, but all of your own worst glares, was oddly buoying. Even though I’m just starting while so many others are ending (we haven’t gotten to the part where I’m forcing myself to accept anything bad about him; he shits sunshine at the moment), and it’s so absurdly obvious that this whole thing is a pain-laden proposition, the alternative is rejection. Rejection of something I’ve been craving for years. Just to avoid what – the acute suffering and heart implosions of real, full-range life? That’s something I can’t accept at all.

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