Bookshelf: Journey of Love

9 Nov

Last year, I suffered a massive heartbreak. The rug was swept out from under me when my boyfriend of nearly 6 years cheated on me, broke off our engagement, and moved out. I was sad, hurt, angry, depressed… all the usual less-than-desireable states of being that accompany a broken heart.

Then something beautiful happened. For the first time in my life, I stopped and asked myself two questions: Who am I? and What do I want? I had vaguely considered these questions before, but this time it was different. This time I considered these questions with absolutely no one else in mind but myself. As thoughts such as Maybe I want to move to California and Perhaps joining the Peace Corps would be fun floated into my mind, I did not feel compelled to consider how my decisions would affect a relationship or another person.

A sense of freedom rushed into my consciousness like a gust of wind blowing a back door wide open. I reveled in it. More courageous thoughts found a voice in my mind: Maybe I never want to get married. Maybe I don’t want to have kids.

After the exhilaration wore off, loneliness sunk in. Marriage and children might not be in my future (or maybe they will) but I could not forgo love and parternship for the rest of my life. The question then became: How can I live the life I want and honor my needs while also experiencing love?

As I usually do when I’m looking for answers, I turned to books. Through my reading, I grew confident that relationships don’t require legal certificates, children, or social approval to be fulfilling. They don’t even need to be labeled as relationships–what counts is the act of love. Although I still don’t have definitive answers to my questions, the following books have helped reshape my path towards self-discovery and love. Hopefully they will guide you on whatever path you’re traveling.

Communion: The female search for love

Part memoir and part critical analysis, this book by bell hooks is essentially a love letter to young women about the search for love in a patriarchal world. It’s a book every woman–gay, straight, or bisexual–should read. This book empowered me to seek relationships that are based on love, equality, honesty, and freedom. Moreover, hooks brought me to the realization that I must take responsibility in my quest for love, rather than blaming men for their shortcomings or relying on a man to complete me.

From the pages:

“Women who choose to love must be wise, daring, and courageous. All around us the culture of lovelessness mocks our quest for love. Wisdom is needed if we would restore love to its rightful place as a heroic journey, arduous, difficult–more vital to human survival and development on planet Earth than going off to slay mythical dragons, to ravage and conquer others with war or all other forms of violence that are like war. Wisdom is needed if we are to demand that our culture acknowledge the journey to love as a grand, magical, life-transforming, thrilling, risky adventure.”

Love, freedom, aloneness: The koan of relationships

One of Osho‘s many writings on the topic of love, this book focuses on the seemingly-opposite needs for freedom and intimacy. Citing the Buddhist teaching that you must first love yourself, Osho says that self-love is the only path to sharing love with others. Ultimately, both freedom and intimacy are necessary for a human being to be fulfilled. This is the book that guided me towards an understanding of free love as ultimate; there is no need for labels, legal certificates, or spoken commitments.

 From the pages:

“Love is never a relationship; love is relating. It is always a river, flowing, unending. Love knows no full stop; the honeymoon begins but never ends. It is not like a novel that starts at a certain point and ends at a certain point. It is an ongoing phenomenon. Lovers end, love continues–it is a continuum.

And why do we reduce the beauty of relating to relationship? WHy are we in such a hurry? Because to relate is insecure, and relationship is a security. Relationship has a certainty; relating is just a meeting of two strangers, maybe just an overnight stay and in the morning we say goodbye. Who knows what is going to happen tomorrow? And we are so afraid that we want to make it certain, we want to make it predictable. We would like tomorrow to be according to our ideas; we don’t allow it freedom to have its own say. So we immediately reduce every verb to a noun.”

Yoga and the Quest for the True Self

While this memoir is about a man’s quest for self-discovery, it’s a useful tool to accompany both men and women on their own journeys. Stephen Cope, a yogi and psychotherapist, demonstrates how Eastern and Western philosophies can be compatible–and how both can help us better understand ourselves and connect to the universe. Like me, Cope began his search for self on the heels of a heartbreaking betrayal and breakup. Not only do I relate to Cope’s story, but his book led me to begin practicing yoga, which has been an infinitely helpful approach to healing and self-care.

From the pages:

“‘He was in the middle of some kind of midlife lunacy, I guess.’ I told her the worst part—that he was having an affair with a guy in his twenties, whom everyone said looked exactly as I had at that age. ‘He actually took him to our goddamned summer place when I wasn’t there. It just walloped me, experiencing betrayal like that after fifteen years together.’ I had been living in a state of shock, uncomprehending. How could he leave all that we had?

‘It’s unbelievable. You just watch as the whole infrastructure of your life collapses—friends, extended family, rituals, holidays, the cat and dog, neighbors. I mean, Sean is my niece’s godfather. I adore his family. And we had so many friends who looked up to us as a stable gay couple.’ I wasn’t feeling self-pity so much as bewilderment, like standing on a dock in a storm, watching helplessly as the boat that contains your most precious possessions comes off its mooring and drifts slowly out to sea.

I wondered secretly if I would be ruined beyond repair by this loss. I felt sure that I would never have the treasure of a relationship lasting long into old age the way my parents and grandparents had had. And I’d always assumed I would have this. I took another sip of wine and looked into the middle distance. What had I done wrong? Was there a great big L for loser plastered on my back that nobody had told me about?”

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