Love, Romance, and Joy

I am 47 years old. I am a white woman who grew up in Ohio and now lives in Kentucky. My lineage is Polish, Irish, English, and Welsh. These are just some background facts: can you tell I’m not a fan of Writerly writing that subtly draws the reader with a mix of emotional coddling, dramatic enticement, and condescension, in the case of self-help books? No, I hope and trust that you as a reader have other things to do, and want the information I have to offer straight up and as clear and brief as possible. Why say in 300 pages what can be said in 7?

Six and a half years ago, my husband of 17 years and I divorced, after trying to work things out for 3 years. I slowly began to emerge from the cultural framework that had imposed itself on me (with my reluctant consent) related to parenting and marriage. It felt like emerging from a fog, because most of the framework components were not things I would have particularly chosen or thought to be good ideas. Cultural brainwashing is that way, and we usually can’t see it when we’re in it. My husband, “Al,” and I were college friends that began dating after college and rather quickly had an unplanned pregnancy on our hands. I knew I wasn’t in love with him, but we were good companions, and we stuck it out. We got married about 8 months after the pregnancy news (which came on Good Friday!). We chose to have a second child three years later as well. The kids were a senior and freshman in high school when we got divorced.

During this time after the divorce, I also began to remember and process early childhood trauma, which had been suppressed. Trauma, trauma healing, and the altered personality it creates in the form of PTSD, are all terrifying realities that make life a kind of perpetual if low-grade nightmare. People who don’t have it simply cannot begin to imagine how it feels, all the time. It’s called “dysphoria” (definition: “a generalized feeling of ill-being”). I still remember the day it dawned on me that Al never felt the constant anxiety, severance from all emotion, and deep dread/knowing that things were going to go wrong–which was my daily state of mind. What?! There were alternatives to feeling this way?! I was mostly facing this healing process alone by then, for various reasons. Looking back, I did a remarkable job healing myself; I am an energy healer by trade, which helped.

It’s a challenge but not killer to lose a 17-year marriage with someone you love as a companion rather than a soul-mate. It had felt like a waiting game—well, my initial commitment was lifelong due to that being the only acceptable option for a good Christian girl. (Oops, she just got pregnant out of wedlock, but hey, at least they’re married now.) However, as my health and happiness failed, I began to question my situation. I saw that we were headed by preference in different directions. I frantically tried to fix that, but in the end people need the freedom to choose their path as they wish. By the time it ended, I felt nothing but relief; I longed for us to return to some kind of friendship again, which just felt more appropriate. He had no interest in friendship, however, which was a dagger to my heart. It would not have been so bad if I hadn’t already had the vacuum of self-worth that trauma stamps onto a body.

What I felt from that situation was that when I quit fitting into the slot he wanted me for, he turned off love for me. I had made it clear there was no loss of love from me, just we couldn’t be married anymore. This felt to me like a cold clear demonstration of very typical conditional love in our culture. Love that lasted only as long as we served as a security blanket for each other. The message: “I’ll love you just as long as you meet my needs, and no longer.” This kind of love is self-serving, and not really love, I would say. Al wasn’t any worse than most exes in this regard; our divorce was fairly amiable. No, it’s just that he was following acceptable cultural divorce/emotional protocol in nixing all love for me. (Thanks, society!) My kids also kind of ditched me during the remainder of high school years, for various reasons, including the fact that it’s what teens do. We stuck it out, and it’s great now. But I had devoted 14 years of my life to homeschooling them, and was more involved than most parents, which made it a huge adjustment rather than a minor one.

At the same time, I lost several other communities I’d been part of. Several friends very dear to me turned on me in major ways, undertaking actions that actually caused economic harm to me, not to mention emotional distress. I also discovered that people tended to stay away when one is reeling from something like divorce, and especially from trauma. People would literally, unconsciously, tune out what I was telling them in regards to experiencing sexual abuse. I now understand this to be one of the super-weird realities of trauma-processing: it’s just too much for most people to even consider. Direct contact with this level of darkness in the world tends to shatter one’s happy worldview permanently, and most people want nothing to do with it or with you if you’ve experienced it. At the time, though, this bizarre not-hearing and immediately forgetting my story, just reinforced my inexplicable lifelong experience that people didn’t seem to care about me the way I cared about them. Even when I actually asked for more support–including my three closest female friends, my mother and my closest sister—none came.

I was stunned, and this tornado of lack of care for me just blew me off the planet for a good while. Eventually I made my way back because I am tough, and also because if I can figure out what’s going on, then I can shut off the emotional storm almost entirely. Most negative, energy-depleting emotions are founded on deep illusions that cause tremendous suffering, I had come to understand. So I became a detective, with two strong input feeds: an excellent, well-educated, analytical mind, and a professionally-trained and innately strong intuitive sense. The more I figured out, the more I understood what a complete failure our cultural setup is when it comes to meeting people’s needs, especially though not only in the realm of relationships. This actually gave me hope that a better scenario could be created. Everything wasn’t just innately screwed. Most people are just falling for the same illusions every time, over and over, and lack the imagination, the perception, and the basic smarts to stop the cycles. Perhaps I could do it, though. I was willing to bet everything on myself; I’d lost almost everything else.

I didn’t mention that the early trauma involved sexual abuse from male family members, and that when I’d told my mother, in essence she sided with them and denied everything. This is textbook-predictable, but nonetheless devastating. So I lost my parents as well as all but one adult friend I had been close to. Losing the archetypal mother-figure feels a little like dying. We all hold out hope that someone else in the world will make things OK for us: often a mother, and then this desperate hope gets pinned on a life partner more often than not. Fortunately for me, I lost everyone within a few years. I say fortunately because that swept all the dysfunctional emotional dependency out of my way. I can’t imagine I would ever have willingly relinquished those emotional pathways, because it was excruciatingly painful to endure. So I would not know what I now know had my path been easier, I reckon.

Shortly after my divorce, I fell deeply in love with a fellow, “Harvey,” who became a close friend. He never wanted a romantic relationship, however, which was particularly hard because of the uncanny depth of our connection. During the four years of our deepening friendship, while still feeling an abiding connection with him, I also briefly dated one man, turned away a few others (who immediately wanted to slap the same conventional-marriage/ownership-box on me), and became majorly infatuated with another, who also was not interested. I got some experience nonetheless, and some experience in better relational practices, for myself.

Not surprisingly, Harvey became my lifeline for hope during this time. Trauma and PTSD-reality had taught me to expect little from people or life. I was a complete cynic about romance already in college. I had no notion of the princess, fairy-tale wedding option. It literally felt like a story I was not part of. Therefore, risky sexual practice and a so-so marriage felt about right. I didn’t get divorced because I had hopes of a new romantic life; I got divorced because I sensed a part of my soul was about to permanently die if I didn’t make a change at that level. So I made a change.

However, once I got out of what felt like a marriage-prison, I couldn’t help but having an inkling of hope for myself and for romance once again. Sure, I could wait 17 years to find someone who would truly see and value me! Not easy, but possible. And Harvey fit fairly seamlessly into the former social scene, only he was shockingly like me in personality, in lifestyle choices, in how he wanted to spend time: all ways that Al and I had majorly diverged. It was too perfect, and I fell hard. We were romantically involved some—lots of flirting and some sex—but he was clear he didn’t want more than that. He gave me very mixed signals, which didn’t help either. When I distanced myself, he would weasel back in at key times with a bottle of wine and a rush of attention. Yeah, that kind of guy. I was desperate, so I fell for it quite a few times over those years. I don’t begrudge that time; we genuinely gave each other some good support and needed companionship. What finally bailed me out in the end was my trusty old friend clear perception, of what was going on and why.

Being an energy healer, I’d had a keen clinical interest in trauma and its healing. To this day, I don’t know how anyone can heal from trauma without addressing the energy or spirit level, but that’s for another book. I had noticed in others with significant trauma and resulting PTSD, a trend to latch on to one individual, usually mother or desired partner, with even more hopeless desperation than most people do. The distinction here between someone with trauma vs. someone without is like the difference between someone who’s fallen into the ocean who has a history of being quickly picked up by lifeboats vs. someone fallen in who has nearly drowned many times, and only survived by some brilliant stroke of superhuman effort (which energetically eats multiple years of their future lifespan). Typically these people are stronger than those around them, which is why they were targeted by energy-predators in the first place (literally, they have more energy, a more highly evolved energy field—old souls). Not only have they had to raise themselves, but usually carry their dysfunctional family on their back as well. To say they are used to a hard life is putting it absurdly mildly. In their childhood, they usually identify one other strong-ish person and that person becomes their irrational lifeline and partner. Usually they are in fact carrying that person on their back too, whether a mother or sibling etc. Getting into their adult years, they have dramatic dysfunctional love relationships, in which they are paradoxically both insanely desperate to be seen and loved/carried yet also cannot give up their compulsion to carry everyone around them and thus to again render their own needs invisible. It’s not surprising they generally get met with rejection: no one wants to pick up a partner who’s already carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders.

Wow, what a situation.

So I had noticed that “trauma-kids” like myself tended to slap that soul-mate designation onto someone with rare desperation, born from the belief that they will fall into the abyss and probably die if this one person doesn’t work out. How does that sound for good relationship potential? Right. Now, if the soul-mate loves them back, there is a chance they can transition into a healthy mutual relationship, kind of slim, but there it is. I had this kind of desperation with Harvey; I held on to hope for all those years that it was only a matter of time before he woke up to his feelings or was ready to commit. I turned a blind eye to the obvious signs this was not the case, because I was really desperate and that abyss was super real and super scary.

Harvey and I were close for about four years, before the glamour wore off. I stood by his right to choose friendship as a principle of integrity, but then began to realize he wasn’t actually a good friend to me either. I finally got clear and strong enough to see that this was a manipulative relationship in which I was giving him huge amounts of my energy, which ironically created the energy glow around him I so adored. In fact, that glow I believed I literally couldn’t live without turned out to be my own beautiful energy projected onto him, which in fact I literally couldn’t live without. So I simply reclaimed my energy and quit leaking it out to him. I lost all interest in and even willingness to hang out with him. Energy-clearing work is pretty great for this. If you really want to quit obsessing over a person, you simply have to give them back every last bit of their energy, and reclaim every last bit of yours from them; the obsession goes away. Thoughts and emotions are simply energy bundles in our space. Sure, that sounds easier than it is, but it’s true and it works.

After the Harvey “breakup,” just over a year ago, I plummeted into another fairly short depression—nothing like the black abyss of trauma-healing, however—and moved into an apartment in town, out of the house Al and I had built a few miles out of town. There I began to try to make sense of this experience we call love. My kids remained a top priority, and they were both in great shape and nicely independent. So I had a minute to catch my breath.

I once again kind of drifted out into space a bit. I’ve learned how to stay grounded in my body, and take care of it, but we do have a choice about how much energy to hold in the body vs. out at our expanded levels of being (same place our energy goes while we sleep). Fortunately, this year’s bout of energetic distancing was limited to questions about romance and love, and resulting implications for my life trajectory—not a return to my former semi-permanent dissociative PTSD state. I luckily had a neighbor in town whose own manner and friendship significantly helped my ability to stay present in current reality as well as to be able to notice and speak of what I felt inside. In fact, it’s been a good year. My apartment was symbolically empty of furniture for about 8 months of it. I feel in part this was because my will to dive into life was rather on hold while I assessed what all had actually happened.

So, here’s the assessment, best I’ve worked out to date.

I was a trauma-kid with little hope to start with. And while a long, so-so marriage and child-rearing was not particularly fun (parenting is really tough when combined with existing energy-depletion from PTSD), it certainly wasn’t devastating emotionally. The real punch in the gut came when the hoped-for soul-mate romance scenario fell through: Harvey. Because I really pinned some actual hope on that, and hope for genuinely being loved and valued. Not the case. Big, universe-resounding, life-questioning DAMN there, and OUCH. (If I could write those a hundred times bigger, I would. You get my point.)

At that point in my life, I had nothing to go on as far as hope. I became interested in another delightful man, but had no framework to put a love-relationship in. (Fortunately he backed away.) I could see in people’s eyes when I talked about my doubts about romantic love, that they were thinking “Oh, she’s just been hurt, poor thing.” The next thought is of course, “Just wait, you’ll find love again.” Pat, pat on the back; unbelievably condescending, but that really is the response of most folks in relationship to the dilemma of single people. People assume that you are wary of relationships because you have fear, which needs to be simply overcome so you can (blindly) trust again.

Well, I wasn’t actually that stupid. I knew about fear and risk, and that you may not get what you want. I’d gone past that, to actually really wanting myself, Harvey, Al, whoever, everyone, to have what each of us truly needed. I’d lost all willingness to be possessive or possessed by someone else. (That was a tough road during the Harvey years, but priceless beyond measure in outcome.) I had boundless courage, and I knew I could bail myself out of most any situation, including emotional. I’d learned I could maintain good non-obsessive boundaries in sex, as well as make a gracious exit out of being “in love” with someone if circumstances required me to. I learned to manage my emotions, and to not project them on others. I learned a LOT in those years; I went to school and did the homework.

I knew it wasn’t just a matter of trusting again. I could trust precisely to whatever degree a person deserved it (not blindly), but the problem was that I had noticed that our current systems of relationship were no good at their core—dry-rotted all through. What do you do with that? I could see that even if I found someone compatible and willing to partner up, we would run into the same issues of possessiveness, projection, dependency, and eventually stagnation. I just wasn’t buying it anymore. No more kool-aid for me; I’d chosen to see clearly. And that puts one in a difficult spot in our culture, since most people prefer their illusions, no matter how much predictable suffering the illusions yield.

Not only could I see these endemic relationship problems, but I also could see that romantic partnership simply was not capable of being the foundational matrix that would create a life well worth living. Hope for a really good life would have to be founded on something else. And I did trust that I could find romantic companionship along that route; I just knew it couldn’t be the foundation.

It took me most of last year to puzzle it all out and figure out what might constitute a good foundation instead. What’s more, how and when did our entire culture become hoodwinked? An incredible feat, really. I was back on the detective trail. I noticed that all the self-help gurus, the people who seemed most enlightened, were all very focused on the importance of love as the central reality to . . . our universe? To our experience? That if we prioritized love above all else, we would win the game, so to speak. We would be happy. This notion is also in the New Testament of the Bible. I grew up very Christian and learned about unconditional love from that world–an incredible gift. However, I didn’t feel that Christians had much to offer as far as a relevant–as in evolving–understanding of love in relationship. The Bible certainly doesn’t prioritize romantic love. Because I had felt the flicker of unconditional love via Christianity, I knew its power, and so I too had placed it at the center, in the foundational role of regulating relationships. So I was naturally looking to people who had evolved past traditional, outdated past-bound, prescriptive religion. Those folks were all too willing to trade in clear sight for the panacea of someone else’s dogma. No thanks.

People like Eckhart Tolle and Marianne Williamson spoke to me deeply at points. I loved her book, “A Return to Love,” risen from the “Course in Miracles.” I especially loved how it debunked the notion of “special relationship”; I felt she was properly getting away from possessive, security-pact conditional love. I was a bit shocked when I came across her subsequent book “Enchanted Love” a few years later, which rather glorified the soul-mate, romantic love crap. Also, it read like it had been written by someone under significant narcotic influence–possessed, versus the gritty realism of her former book. What was going on here? Eckhard Tolle had a bit of that weird feel also, like someone who was being very patient (and condescending) to us poor humans.

I eventually tracked the romantic love (as central reality to life) illusion back to Avalon. I believe it was, like Avalon, a desperate misty effort to hold onto some piece of the All-nurturing Mother Goddess, who had disappeared as thoroughly as if claimed by a black hole, after Isis. The Great Goddess, the Feminine Principle, the Prime Mover of this universe—she in whom “we live and move and have our being,” the One who makes us all feel that we belong here—where the hell did she go? And what were we supposed to do in her absence? Think of Greek myth, how the crops withered and nothing thrived in the years Demeter roamed in grief, disguised as a poor wanderer. We began to wither post-Isis. We invented the cheap substitute of romantic love, wishing that could make the Earth feel good and alive again. For God’s sake, we invented the Catholic Church! (We must have been desperate.)

Another more sinister side of the absence of the Goddess—not unrelated to the Catholic Church in fact—were the usurping “powers” that stepped up their rule of the planet with her out of the way. In essence, the goal of all powerful human illusions on the planet is to make humans easier to manipulate by other wills—the “powers that be”: to blur energy boundaries, so people will remain unstable and weak, rather than stepping more fully into their own power and demanding that a better world be created. These ruling powers would rather keep resources concentrated and allow needs to generally go unmet; they don’t want the world to change for the common good.

Love was a good ideal for them to mess with, because it’s so powerful and so important. In its proper role, as I see it, love is the perfect flow between people. Love allows us to see each other’s true beauty and potential. It turns us on (an alternative to hormones), it lights us up, it makes us feel we belong. Love is a neutral energy that can flow anywhere; it doesn’t belong to any one person. Love need not be possessive or jealous: those are add-ons which wreck the feeling of unconditionality and deeper belonging.

The problem came when love was assigned the wrong role in human relationships. It was placed at the center, instead of being understood as inherently a flow of energy. Therefore it is not capable of holding any center. It is not capable of creating a lasting foundation of belonging, of at-homeness in this world. Love creates a feeling of rightness with others, but it shifts from person to person. When we pin it on one person to meet our needs, it becomes wrong. It becomes possession, demand, ownership, and is no longer love. Unconditional love creates a desire for others to thrive, wherever their path takes them. Conditional “love” is possessiveness and perhaps affectionate, but at its core, its desire is to bind people to us for security, not for them to thrive. And somehow that is the kind of “love” we have settled for in our culture. Yikes. Love that is not love. And so we suffer, and we keep expecting it to be different without understanding the fundamental flaw in our concept. Our well-being cannot be founded on holding our “loved-ones” hostage. They must be free, which means, we must derive our at-homeness from a different source.

For one thing, I do believe that the Goddess is quite recently back in embodied action on the planet, and I trust we will therefore be experiencing a noticeably improving world. In the meantime, as far as what we can do, my detective work leads me to the conclusion that “joy” may provide the secure home we are looking for, which “love” can never be. Lasting joy rises from carrying out our purpose in this life, from engaging in the work and projects that we are here to do and explore, from learning what we came to learn. These are the things that bring fulfillment. And we can access them independently, without any reliance on others (who may or may not be around in a few years). We need to boot love out of its “central” role in arranging our lives; it does not work that way. We must stop looking to love to provide the home in this world that we desperately need. We need to look inward for that; mercifully so, since we can provide it for ourselves! We can choose to pursue what brings us joy, perhaps at an economic cost since we live in a culture that seems to squelch it more than encourage it, but we nonetheless have a choice—this, without imprisoning other people to our desires. Love feels right, but it is no substitute for the work we are here to do. We have all seen what happens, when people become too focused on each other, rather than pursuing the things that bring them joy. It’s gross and inbred, and they only become less and less happy. They try to control each other increasingly; what a bad game.

So, can we please stop? Can we quit putting love at the center? Can we just be grateful for every loving connection that comes to us—some briefly and some lifelong? Without binding it, and killing its free-flowing nature? Can we please permanently separate out love from any kind of possessiveness or controlling behavior? Can we define it as a choice and behavior to help others to thrive as well as ourselves? Can we let it flow freely enough that before too long, all of us wake up and begin to notice that there’s always enough love around? If and only if we quit trying to hoard and control it; stuff it into the “romantic partnership” box, or the “nuclear family” box, or the “extended family” box, or the “people who look and dress and think like me” box. Let’s set each other free! Maybe we’ll start enjoying life.

In the current United States, the love-as-central-reality illusion has been fueling us for decades, and is still touted as the solution to happiness in most movies, books, etc. Just find the right person, and you’ll be happy. It’s NOT TRUE. Not surprisingly, levels of depression, anxiety, unhappiness, and stress are at an all-time high. We have got to give up some illusions here, and start noticing what actually works and doesn’t work. We need to prioritize what brings joy, and that means loosening up our death-grip on each other and our relational boxes/prisons. We need to include more people in our love-flow, so that half the population isn’t sitting home alone watching TV every night. We’ve got to celebrate holidays with people who aren’t just our extended family: joy, remember? We’ve gotten way bogged down in patterns that simply don’t work. Maybe they used to, but I doubt it.

Let’s make love unconditional again. Let’s put joy at the center, and see what happens. Let’s keep making adjustments until we get it right. This is just one theory, one set of observations. If we just wake up and quit expecting different outcomes from the same old behaviors, that would probably in itself be enough. But maybe we can start with putting love in its proper place, so we can all thrive.

Back to my own corner of life. I will never try to bind someone to me again with my will; I will never allow myself to be enslaved in a relationship that does not help me or others to thrive. (Hasn’t anyone noticed that when one member of a household/family/community is unhappy, it seeps out into everyone?) If this means I never have another romantic relationship again (because no one else is willing to commit to unconditional love), so be it. I don’t do things that are just plain wrong. And I am well aware that every bit of suffering around me makes me suffer just as much as the other person. It’s not like I could even “get away” with trying to own someone; my eyes have already opened. I’ll have no part in it. I want people around me to thrive. Interestingly, one of the harder applications of this is that often people are all too willing to allow themselves to suffer, and they get martyr points for it socially. I don’t want those people around me either; suffering is suffering, and whether you’re inflicting on someone else or yourself, it’s all the same misery to me. Keep your distance. I don’t want a world where we pick up our crosses and follow a resurrected guru; I want a world where we encourage each other to set down every last burden and illusion that causes suffering, and dance. For Goddess’ sake, where has our joy gone?! Let’s get it back.