“And so whenever a new potential boyfriend appears on the horizon, I get a sense of dread and can feel myself hardening: what if I lose myself again? What will become of my life if I end up with a husband and kids?” Readers’ questions
Hi Olesya! For a few days now, one issue has got me so confused and overwhelmed that I can’t see a solution, assuming a solution even exists. I’m writing to you in the hope that you might have experienced similar thoughts. In all my serious long-term relationships I have completely lost my identity and tried to fill the emptiness inside me with my partners, their interests and problems. I specifically remember that I put my own plans on hold, stopped doing things that I enjoyed, and instead found myself playing house. I also remember how long it took me to gather up the fragments of myself after these relationships ended… I’m in the process of creating myself anew. And so whenever a new potential boyfriend appears on the horizon, I get a sense of dread and can feel myself hardening: what if I lose myself again? What will become of my life if I end up with a husband and kids? I know these are hypothetical fears at the moment; I have no husband or kids. But I’ve noticed that this fear is stopping me from acting naturally with men, afraid that someone might steal me away from myself. My head is riddled with questions. How will I cope? I mean, I’m a long-practising vegetarian, I’m used to doing exercise half-naked every morning and meditating in silence – how on earth will I manage to maintain this rhythm if I suddenly have to share my space with someone else? Am I ready to go through all of this again? These are the thoughts going through my mind… Perhaps these are questions only I can answer, and these fears may well be unfounded, but I’d be glad to know your perspective. Thank you so much for your openness and honesty in your answers – it really helps!
Julia, you’re experiencing what I like to call the “monastery in the mountains” effect, i.e. that it’s easy being a monk in the Himalayan wilderness.
It’s easy to fast when there’s no temptation. It’s easy to focus when there are no distractions. It’s easy to be happy when there’s no cause for anxiety. Perhaps ‘easy’ isn’t exactly the right word, but in any case, all these disciplines are significantly more ‘easily achievable’ in the quiet of your own privacy, rather than in the crazy bustle of the city – not to mention adding the task of raising a family.
The same applies to your situation: remaining healthy, observing and taking in the world around you, filling your time with enriching activities while staying connected to your inner centre is all much easier when you’re alone. Time, energy and resources are all at your disposal. This creates a kind of bubble around you, where you establish your own rules and follow them, changing the shape and pattern of your own existence as needed.
But the arrival of other people, however much you love your partner and children, will invariably encroach on this little world you’ve created, changing it’s parameters in the process. Your former life and private bubble will no longer exist, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to maintain your inner equilibrium when you come face to face with difficulties.
So here you need to ask yourself the all-important question: are you prepared to spend your whole life in this self-contained space, where it’s undoubtedly easier to maintain your equilibrium? Or are you ready to reach the light beyond the tunnel of your inner fears?
I can’t speak for everyone, but for most people, solitude is a necessary step towards understanding oneself, consciously and independently. Being alone allows us to explore and discover the thread that connects us to the world; it helps us unravel the roots of our own shortcomings, and most importantly, it teaches us to stop fearing that inner hollow we’ve been blindly trying to fill with someone else. But there is no conclusion to this process.
Choosing to go it alone, under the banner of “I’m recreating myself!” is a great way to reset and reboot; a necessary and important step. But be aware that this is a race with no set finish line.
One of my previous articles looks at the art of maintaining balance in life, analyzing the question: “is it possible to develop in every sphere of your life from scratch at the same time?” The following extract serves as an illustration:
Take 4 apples, about average in size and easy enough to hold in both hands. Got them? Great. Ok, now start juggling, without dropping a single one. Oh, and make sure you juggle with grace and beauty, really putting your heart and soul into it. We’re striving for perfection, right? It’s a fact that some people can juggle easily and skilfully straight away, whether it’s four apples or ten apples, which means it’s possible to do. If it’s humanly possible, it means you should be able to do it, too. Or does it? Can you juggle them all now? Without letting a single one fall? Looking at someone who can deftly manage each sphere of their life, and trying to copy their approach, using your own experiences as a basis is impossible – especially if your present aim is a complete overhaul in your life, starting from the very foundations. First, just focus on developing one area in your life, whether it’s work, your body, or relationships. Gradually, once you’ve got the hang of it, you can begin adding other ‘apples’ into the mix. Learning to juggle four apples begins with learning to catch just one. Once you’ve mastered the basics, it becomes easier and easier to keep adding apples.
So take the next logical step in your situation in order to find the solution your question. What happens when someone who can juggle with two apples wants to add a third?
So you can juggle two apples. You can already do this pretty well, without dropping them. In fact, you’re practically a master. The next logical move is to develop further, right? I mean, who only juggles with two apples? Go ahead – pick up that third apple. You start to throw them in the air, and..?
No matter how good you are at juggling with two, adding a third will still cause you to drop all three. All three will fall, again and again: this is the law of progressing to the next level. You’ll lose your rhythm, of course, but if you keep going, at some point something will click. You’ll suddenly be able to juggle three, just as gracefully as you did with two. It’s simply a question of time and skill.
In other words, you’re afraid, but your fears are actually quite reasonable. You’re not just afraid you’ll sacrifice your own interests and become too dependent on your partner again – you’re subconsciously aware that it’s guaranteed to happen, and that you stand to lose your rhythm. This time though, you’ll have an arsenal of tools for self-healing and self-awareness, which you’re working on acquiring now. These tools will help you stay in shape, if that’s what you want, of course.
We can work independently on any aspect of our life, except relationships. This area requires a second person, with their own habits, opinions and fears. You can work on yourself, your physical health and your professional life as much as you like, but you have to step out of your bubble when it comes to relationships. This is where we ‘tend to our field’, pulling out the baobabs from the root; and it is the only task you can’t do alone.
Any relationship, especially one that is based on love and trust, is a connection between two people. The key is awareness. Move forward brazenly and blindly, and you risk creating a harmful and uncontrollable dependency. A clear mind and a conscientious approach, however, nourishes a spiritual and physical connection to varying degrees of intensity, according to each couple, their sensitivities and their circumstances. Whichever way we look at it, entering any relationship involves an element of risk with no guarantees or assurances. When you love and are open, you are connected with another person and therefore cannot control everything from your side alone. And at times, yes, you may falter and lose your balance due to the external impact the other person makes on your life. You may even get hurt, as has probably happened in the past. You’re vulnerable, and worse still, you know you are.
There are two ways out: having been burned in the past, you may choose to simply close yourself off from love; i.e. you want to be loved than you want to love, so you favour “convenient” relationships that don’t require depth of feeling, or perhaps you choose to abstain from this “hassle” altogether. Or, you take the plunge. You choose to love at maximum capacity, moving beyond fear and past experiences. You trust your partner completely, you allow yourself to be vulnerable, and thus, you abandon your fears.
And in fact, learning to maintain your inner equilibrium, i.e. practising with those apples (even if you dropped them at first), and allowing your partner to do the same, has its own benefits. You find your own centre, and a loving relationship both at once.
Julia, perhaps you were expecting me to focus specifically on the vegetarianism and half-naked workouts, and offer some more concrete advice. To be honest, I don’t have much to say about those. The root of your doubts lies elsewhere. The story about the branch was designed to inspire you to work on your fears, and in doing so, move beyond the dilemma of whether or not a vegetarian can live with a non-vegetarian. By the way, you could always find a male vegetarian who likes to exercise in the morning – a pleasure you could share before it’s time to get the kids up and ready. (How wonderful it would be if that were the only compromise you had to make!) The real issue is your inner willingness. Just take one step forward in your mind, and allow yourself to recognize that genuine trust and intimacy does exist; and that in order to truly accept a person into your life, you must first let go of your innermost fears and perhaps risk getting hurt more than once.
So what should we do with our fears?
1) Let them be
Rather than trying to run away from our anxieties, or listening to the “rationale” behind them, try simply accepting their existence. Take a cold, business-like approach: “Oh, you’re here? Fine, make yourself at home. Only, I’ve things to do, so… you can look after yourself.”
Our troubles hate this kind of attitude, and gradually wither away. They only grow if they can feed on fear. All you have to do is acknowledge them – nothing more – and they’ll shrink by at least half.
2) Go towards your fears
This ‘aerobatic’ approach really works. Face your fear – this is the best advice I was ever given. If you followed step one, they’ll at least shrink and stop taunting you. By actually running towards them, however, you can chase them away.
Of course I’m not saying that I’ve mastered these techniques. For example, the thought of skydiving terrifies me, and yet I’m not about to jump out of a plane (however healthy it might be for me), as it’s not an issue that keeps me up at night. It’s different, though, with fears such as leaving, quitting, changing everything, creating, opening, launching, risking, and of course, falling in love. I do exactly what scares me the most. No more, no less. It’s scary at first, of course. I’m not trying to cure my fears or eradicate them; I’m just going for it… At my own risk.
Do what you must and what will be, will be
Creating yourself anew isn’t just about single-handedly maintaining harmony in your body and mind, but also the ability to go beyond and extend this inner harmony further: at first to your friends and family, and then, when you have the inner capacity, to the whole world.