Let me start by saying I think this should all be way easier. Find a great guy, watch him fall in love with me, be a happy couple. Done. I feel like this happens to other people all the time. Happy-couple stories shape the world we live in, from books to movies to everyday life. They are absolutely everywhere and there’s no way to feel good about being excluded from them.
Let me also say that I’ve not just been sitting on the sidelines waiting for him to show up. I’ve dated with what I would call focused intensity. I’ve dated older men, younger men, and men my age. I met them online, at work, at parties, and through friends. I once dated my massage therapist, and what was supposed to be a sexy fling with an inappropriate younger man somehow turned into an eight-month long, fraught relationship that ended when for no good reason, he presented me with an engagement ring. I dated a dad at my kids’ school who told me he ran his own business and owned the building where he lived, but it turned out he was in film school and lived with his parents, which I found out when they had me over to dinner and I spied all his stuff piled up in his childhood bedroom. I dated a professional wrestler who made a very big deal about taking me on a four-day romantic cruise then spent the entire time – morning till night – gambling by himself in the ship’s casino. I watched each evening’s sunset by myself on the deck, surrounded by happy couples, rejected by a man who wore a mask for a living.
Love has eluded me for so long, brought me to my knees so often, left me scratching my head in confusion so consistently, that for the last few years I’ve just taken myself out of the game. Thrown in the towel. Walked off the field. I told myself dating is time-consuming, emotionally exhausting, and I have better things to do. The truth is I have a secret fear – not entirely unfounded as you can see – that I can’t trust myself to make good choices. I think I’m missing that chip that all the happily married or partnered women in the world were born with. That thing that gives them the power to attract and choose the right man.
But now I’m on a DreamQuest. I’m making all my dreams come true, including the biggest one of finding soulmate love. I’m going back in.
Last fall in Chicago I met love coach and sex therapist, Dr. Laura Berman. We had a 90-minute session where I told her about myself, and she listened. I told her about dating in college and my early twenties, about how when I was 25 years old, I moved from Cleveland to Chicago with my artist-boyfriend Brian. I was 100 percent smitten with him, until a year later when I met a man who walked through the door of the office where I was working, asked me to lunch, and then two weeks later asked me to marry him. We eloped to Las Vegas, had two beloved children, and divorced nine years later. I wondered out loud if my doomed marriage was karmic payback for leaving Brian high and dry. Dr. Laura took notes. I moved on to a few selected stories about dating as a single mom in my 30s and 40s. I talked through match.com, okcupid, eharmony, and It’s Just Lunch. I talked about blind dates and fix ups. The one time Dr. Laura put her pen down was when I heard myself saying something like, “Well you know. I mean, you see right? I’m not the kind of girl most guys like.”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
I shrugged, not wanting to spend too much time on this but still wanting to get it acknowledged and out of the way. I said, “I mean, you know. Me. I have a big personality. I’m very opinionated. I’m a handful.” I gestured to myself and added, “I don’t know. I’m just a lot. I’m probably too much.”
Dr. Laura raised her eyebrows at me. She said that her impression was quite the opposite. She said she thought I was gentle, even deferential, and that I went out of my way to make other people feel comfortable. I half listened while my inner voice whispered – “She doesn’t really know you yet.”
But I trusted her (even though she couldn’t see how bombastic and unlovable I was) and a week after our meeting she sent me a five-page analysis of our session. In it she told me that I had an ugly duckling complex because my parents didn’t help me put “Gems” (lovable nuggets) about myself into my “Treasure Chest” when I was a kid. An empty Treasure Chest is something that haunts many women around my age, she said. Given my memories of childhood this didn’t surprise me much. Those of us who grew up in the 1970s know – it was the wild west of parenting. I would be surprised if anyone knew my whereabouts, let alone what I was “feeling” when I was a kid. I was once suspended from high school for three days for excessive tardiness and truancy, and when I told my mother she just blinked at me in confusion. She had no idea what I did every day.
My method of working through this was to become unusually independent and self-sufficient. I read a lot and kept mostly to myself. I had secret boyfriends in high school and college, boys and men no one in my family ever knew about. In short, I was my own boss. Dr. Laura concluded, “Unfortunately you still have that ugly duckling girl in you who believes she is too much and thus not enough.”
And ok, this seemed plausible, but I really wasn’t interested in sifting through all my childhood wounds to figure out why I couldn’t find a tall, cool, funny boyfriend today. Just get him here please. Luckily Dr. Laura didn’t want to spend time on that either. Instead, she asked me to do something different and interesting. She asked me to think about how I want to feel in a great relationship. In other words, instead of dreaming up the attributes of the man I want (dark hair, blue eyes) she asked me to dream instead of the way he might make me feel. Find five “feeling-words” to describe that blissful state and spend 15 minutes every day meditating on those feelings.
Then here’s the part I really like: each day I’m supposed to do something that evokes those feelings. So, if my feeling-word is Adventurous, I should take a hike up the side of a mountain to look out over Los Angeles, or start dreaming up an exotic trip somewhere. Because I’m an adventurer. If my word is Nurturing, I’ll make a big meal for someone I love. Passionate – I dive into a project that makes my heart sing.
Dr. Laura says that like attracts like. The idea is to turn myself into a divining rod for the relationship-feelings I want by actually becoming those feelings on a daily basis.
For the first time in my life as I think about the man I want, I’m not thinking Tall. Funny. Smart. I’m thinking about how I want him to make me feel:
Known. Trusted. Adored. Excited. Happy
Two months after my session with Dr. Laura I was in New York and had a meeting with an intuitive named Naomi who told me that the man I would meet was only months away, but for him to arrive I had to clear away the last remnants of pain and obstruction that, according to her, I’ve been harboring for years. “They aren’t walls or barriers,” she said. “They’re just speed bumps. Very small now but you need to sweep them away once and for all.”
This one-two punch of meeting Dr. Laura and then Naomi seemed like destiny to me. Maybe I had finally arrived at a moment where change was about to happen, where my love life would be turned around. I decided to start thinking about what to put in my Treasure Chest. What were the things I really liked about myself? How did I want to be seen and known?
I thought about the men in my life – the many boyfriends and one husband. No matter how long we were together or the quality of our match, I don’t look back on any of them and wish they or I had stayed. This made me wonder what kind of man I want. I look at my carefully chosen and curated group of friends. The only people I let into my life are the ones who contribute to it. Who make me happy, make me laugh, make me think. For me the core question is: What man am I going to like enough to fall in love with? And the next question is: Can I go beyond compatibility and really call in magical true love? The kind of love that changes everything?
While I was lost in this reverie, Naomi studied the cards and then said, “In the meantime, do yourself a favor and get into the shape you want to be in … because you’re going to be naked with this man.” So – very specific. Thanks Naomi. “You want to present yourself to him as a goddess,” she said. I couldn’t disagree. Being in great shape – healthy and fit and toned – wasn’t about being more desirable, it was about feeling more beautiful. I want to be in great shape physically the same way I want to be in my best shape emotionally and spiritually.
This really was a breakthrough – throwing away the old notion that I need to “make a man fall in love with me.” Instead, I was going to fall in love with myself, body, mind and spirit. That’s not easy. As women, how many of us are actually in love with ourselves? How good are we at quieting our inner critic? Not many and not very, is my guess.
At the end of our session I told Naomi the truth, which is this: I don’t want any more short-term relationships that don’t work out, that I have to extricate myself from as gracefully as possible. I also don’t want to be on my couch watching movies alone for the rest of my life. Neither of those extremes is the love story I want to tell. I want the right thing. I want the best thing. I want magic.
Naomi looked at me and said, “If you want magic, you have to be magic. You have to dance in the pixie dust.”