If we were to design the perfect education system for today’s world, I hardly believe the one that currently exists would be the one we would choose. Very little of the constructs of our education system and the frameworks of our schooling are based on becoming experts in the incredibly important interactions of our day-to-day lives.
As Sir Ken Robinson noted in his first TED talk – the education system is designed to produce university professors.
I’ve known many of them. They are more often than not neither exciting nor engaging.
Shockingly, not once in ANY of my education, throughout grade school and my undergrad, was I ever taught about how to pick great romantic partners, have crucial conversations, exist and thrive in a romantic relationship, be vulnerable, share my emotions, or most importantly, what are the constructs of a healthy (and unhealthy) relationship.
This proves very interesting to me.
I believe that learning how to be and operate in healthy relationships, romantic and otherwise, is the single MOST important skill you can learn in your lifetime.
Your ability to create and participate in healthy relationships will be the deciding factor in how you perform in EVERY facet of your life. Not just romance.
Why do we need to learn how to exist in and maintain thriving relationships?
Because a high performing and satisfying relationship is the largest contributing factor to a happy life. Pretty compelling reason, I would l think.
But thriving relationships are rare. And unhappy people, divorced or not, are pretty easy to find.
Although divorce rates have both declined and maintained relative stability since the mid 1980s, there is no doubt that if divorces aren’t managed with a high level of emotional intelligence, maturity and awareness, the cost can be substantial to the individuals involved, which sometimes can include children. Not to mention the rippling effect on the government, hospitals, prisons, corporations, and the emotional health of all those affected.
So if divorce has a large emotional, financial and mental cost, shouldn’t it be in the government’s best interest to reduce it? Duh.
Where do we currently get our education? Can we do better?
Our education on relationships begins at conception. It’s the moment we’re ejected out of the vagina and shot into this world that we start absorbing every sound, sight and emotional nuance. We are exposed to this schooling through our own interactions with other humans, as well as the interactions that occur in our perceivable world.
This illuminates the vast importance and immense responsibility of how we show up in ANY role in a person’s life.
In every moment we are literally teaching each other with our body language, physical touch and every word we choose.
On top of that, research also shows that we are affected by stress (cortisol levels) in utero. So the relationship we conceive children in and the family environment they are born into can prove to be much more important than we may think.
But not all of us are born into great households.
This is a reality all too true for many of us.
So if our environment has such a profound impact on us, can we learn other behaviours?
There are people who face all sorts of adversity in their lives and far outperform those who were born into positive circumstances. Resilience and post-traumatic growth are beautiful demonstrations of a thriving human condition even after the most painful life experiences.
We are not innately programmed knowing how to be an accountant, high performing athlete, or compelling speaker. Much like these skills are nurtured and developed over our youth, we could all learn how to become relationship masters.
It’s a skill to be a great lover, partner, family member, teammate and friend. A skill that can and should be taught.
Being a happy lover makes for happy people all around us. Love and happiness, by design, are contagious.
Unfortunately divorce is too.
So what’s the solution?
It’s time that we take the education surrounding healthy relationships and what they’re composed of seriously.
If you fail math you don’t fail at life. Quite the opposite. You’re probably pretty cool.
If you fail at understanding how to manage and communicate your emotions, you do potentially fail at life. That’s serious business.
Some people never recover from the pains of heartbreak and traumatizing breakups. The same skills that go into loving also allow us to understand how to love ourselves and how to manage a breakup.
One need just take a stroll down a beach or sit in a coffee shop and listen to all the conversations as proof of a desire for understanding what we want and need from relationships. Religion and culture have made marriage, divorce, and even sex, subjects that are taboo.
The truth is there is no shortage of science and experience to create the curriculum for an evolving course on “Relationships”. One search of Google brings up 504,000,000 results. Pretty amazing, right?
Do we realize that educating everyone in all these different areas will equip us to: choose better partners, operate in healthy relationships and teach our kids to do the same, reduce all the related costs, reduce the rate of divorce…
EVEN IF people do decide to get divorced, with these skills they will be able to do it with both kindness and compassion.
We might just change the world. Because happy people don’t hurt people.
Now all I need is funding to get the ball rolling. Who wants to make a donation?
Having a dream relationship is a lot like any dream we have. We create the desire, we know what we want, we write it down, and then we create a plan. As we’re executing that plan someone pops into our life (via dating apps a lot of the time)… and they are *so it*. Almost.
And in this space of ‘almost’ is where a lot of people spend their lives. Why we choose to pursue and stay in the ‘almost’ can be for many reasons… maybe we’re afraid to be alone, maybe we wanted a quick lay, maybe we get validation from casual encounters, maybe we got impatient and our biological clock had us want ‘a’ relationship, maybe our culture and/or community shames being alone, maybe we place our self worth in the hands of love… and maybe, just maybe, we’re all scared shitless of the relationship we all say we want.
So it’s safer to play in the ‘almost’ zone, because then the connection can never really escape us. Then we will never have to truly show up.
So we stay… and we wonder why it doesn’t feel right. And on we go, and as we do we support the stories like “love fades”, “people who are together a long time no longer have sex”, “relationships are hard work”, “the grass isn’t always greener”… not every couple who have been together for a long time still love each other right?!
We perpetuate these stories because they allow us to stay in the ‘almost’. They allow us to play safe and to love with half our hearts.
When are you going to get mad and shift your life?! When are you going to wake up to your possibility and pursue a life worth living?! When are you going to align your life with your integrity?! With what you truly want?!
We are all so much better than an ‘almost’. But when we stay in mediocre relationships and pursue relationships that are not a “hell yes” we are telling ourselves that we’re not a “hell yes”. The message we send to ourselves and the world is that we’re not worth more, and neither is our partner. We must make the decisions that truly reflect what we say we want.
Commit to your desire, and then operate your life from the space that you will not be – nor accept less than a “hell yes”… because what we say “yes” to becomes our lives. So say “yes” to f*cking ridiculously amazing.
A couple of years ago I was in Shavasanna after a pretty intense Kundalini class… for the non-yoga doers, I was basically just laying down in that state that occurs right before we sleep. My mind was running and the question I had asked myself was, “Why haven’t I found someone yet?”
To which someone replied… I’m not sure who that someone is, but let’s call her God, the big U (Universe, not Uterus), and said, “Your search has always been for yourself.”
Excuse me? What? Sounded like some existential bullshit I had heard before uttered by so many self-help authors. But I had never really comprehended what it meant, until that moment.
We are all constantly bombarded with cheesy ass shit like:
“Love yourself first.”
“You can only love someone else as deeply as you love yourself.”
If you want to find the one, be the one (okay, okay… I’ve said this one many times)
Self love, self love, self love….blah blah blah blah, and more self-love.
When I first heard about self-love I had no fucking clue what people were talking about. I thought I was supposed to grab some lube and kleenex and head to the bedroom. And then, like so many others, in the moment of post-coital observation, I felt no more self-love. In a way, I felt more empty (no pun intended).
Self-love seems rather elusive doesn’t it? It’s a buzzword that people love to spew but no one ever tells us how to fucking get it. It’s become the “conscious” lingo that everyone talks about, but no one actually knows what it is. It’s like Fight Club, except we already know how to beat ourselves up. What we seek is peace from the regular emotional shame we experience. We want a vacation from the poisonous self talk and perhaps just one glimpse of this fucking promise land so many “gurus” speak of.
I’m no guru, but I’ll tell you what I have learned from struggling as a human to feel like I am worthy of love. In that yoga class that day, I finally understood that I was not living a life of true self-expression.
I finally got it:
If you want everyone around you to behave with integrity, to love you, to honour you, to appreciate you, to support you, to value you, to give to you, to invite you to grow and change, you have to become all of those things. Your life has to embody what you want. Ie. If you want to find the one, be the one.
So WTF is self-love and how do we create it?
Well, first off, it’s important we understand that it’s not a destination, it’s a journey. You don’t just get to this magical moment where you’re like, “I DID IT! I FELL IN LOVE WITH MYSELF!”
Self-love is formed through the habits and rituals which fill our daily lives. It could be the choice to go to the gym instead of the club. It’s cultivated by creating a life that sends the message to ourselves that we matter and are loved and respected by ourselves, first.
Uh oh, I’m starting to sound a little guru-ey, aren’t I?!?
Okay, to make it a little easier, here are five self-love must-haves if you want to wake up, look in the mirror and be able to say, “Good morning you sexy mutha-fucka! You are going to kick-ass today! I love you bae.”
1 – Become best friends with yourself – What do I mean by this? Take walks by yourself, take yourself to dinner. Learn you. Listen to your thoughts. Develop a meditation practice. Go on trips. Take drives. Spend quality time in your mind and heart. Go for hikes. Hug trees. Make love to yourself. Pursue your passions. Find a hobby.
We can’t love ourselves if we don’t even know who are. We can’t express our true feelings if we’ve never listened to them.
2 – Making healthy choices (food & exercise) – Eat more vegetables. Exercise. Get out in nature and hike. Stop eating shit that’s basically rubber. Self-loving choices are not picking fries over salads all the time, or sitting on the couch instead of getting out for a run. People who love themselves have very different habits than those who don’t. We can’t begin to love ourselves and our bodies if we don’t make choices that cultivate that desired belief.
Start now. Go for walks. Do a workout. Join a gym… learn about food. Start to cook. Go to yoga (it has the benefit of movement and meditation).
3 – Boundaries – What are they? They’re guidelines and requirements for people to understand how to treat us. They communicate what makes us feel loved, what we need from a relationship, what our standards are when it comes to communication and how people need show up in our life, if they want to be in it.
But there’s something even more important that boundaries provide, and it’s that they cultivate self-worth. They communicate to others that we are worthy of being loved and respected. And at the exact same time, they send the message to ourselves that we are worthy of being loved and respected. Win-Win.
Boundaries are fucking sexy too – Why are they the new lingerie? Because self-worth is sexy and telling people that their behaviour is bullshit and will not be tolerated is more powerful than being a smooth mofo and having a rock solid backyard (ass).
Careful though, because just as quickly as boundaries can create confidence, one slip up or “exception” can eradicate our self-worth faster than Amazon Prime. You must understand how important this skill is because we can’t have high self-worth without making decisions that reflect that desire. If we let toxic and disrespectful people into our lives, and allow them to stay there, we will have no choice but to form the belief that we are unworthy and don’t deserve more. Fuck that. You do. But you’re the one who has to create those boundaries.
Having clear and healthy boundaries is easily the quickest way to cultivate self-love and self-worth, and to improve your Tinder profile. Okay, okay… it won’t help with Tinder, but it will help with what you swipe “yes” too…
4 – Share your feelings – Brene Brown isn’t kicking ass and taking names because vulnerability isn’t important. It’s #sohotrightnow (always). When we share our feelings, we send the message to ourselves that our feelings matter. When we tell other people what’s up, we allow them to peer into our hearts, which also sends the message to ourselves that we’re worthy of being loved. Vulnerability invites others to join us in a vulnerable space. One person always has to go first… be that person.
5 – Let yourself be loved – You cannot fully love yourself if you don’t let people love, support and give to you. Why? Because until we let people in and choose people who can fully love us, we will never truly believe it.
A lot of us get stuck in this space where we’re SO GOOD alone and build a life that is centered around us. This is great…. But there’s a difference between walls and boundaries. Outwardly it might appear as though these people are selfish, but self-love and selfishness are two very different things. And in the latter case, the selfishness is really just fear masquerading as awareness and boundaries. What we’ve built is walls and walls keep people out; boundaries teach people where the door is.
The bottom line of self-love is this:
Stay true to you. Honour your needs. Create agreements in your relationships. Stand the-fuck-up for yourself.
We must stay the course. It’s SO EASY to just go back to the habits and life that led to us to to the moment where we woke up and realized that we weren’t happy and life was meant to feel fucking good. It’s easy to do more shots, to try to hump away our pain, to take that job that doesn’t fulfill us or to say yes to a relationship with someone who just isn’t it. We have to live a life that is in alignment with our integrity and our hearts.
How we want to feel has to be more important than the fear that we’ll never feel that way. What we choose demonstrates whether we’re living a life moving in the direction of our dreams, or our excuses. We can’t do both, so choose wisely.
Before I started writing publicly I sent an article I wrote to a woman I knew who was a “writer”.
She was the first of many since then who would tell me that that my writing was crass and I shouldn’t put it out to the world, unless I changed it. That my work would be better if I didn’t swear. It would get to more people and be more effective in helping them transform. She told me that I use the word “fuck” when I don’t need to… that I’m far too intelligent to use slang and foul language in my writing.
I almost listened. I almost started writing and publishing under an alias.
Wow… thank god I didn’t. I would’ve been sending the same perpetual message we all get sent:
“It’s not safe to be who you are.”
So I said, “Fuck it.” And hit “publish” – as Mark Groves.
I’ve been told not to write about many subjects… religion, sex, marriage, divorce, circumcision… the list of the taboo is long. People’s sensitivities will always be there, but our willingness to speak truth has to be greater than our fear of not being loved by the people who experience it. And truth is fluid… much like our identities and beliefs. They will all change as we do.
Whatever your art or your dream is, let it be yours. Let your voice be found as you type/speak the words. Let your message from yesterday be your old truth and the one you share in this moment be an expression of what’s streaming through your heart right now.
And if you wanna swear, swear. Are there times when swearing isn’t appropriate? Sure. In those moments you and I shall edit our language… But let us refuse to edit who we are… because that would be us continuing to support a system that tells us to alter our truth in order to tow the line and be loved.
No longer are we limited by the geographic confounds of our often misguided and systemic-minded linear lineage. We can find our people. We can share what our hearts yearn to scream.
So here you are. On the edge of your truth. Often waiting for someone else to approve of your choices. But at the end of the day their opinion will never matter if you cannot lay your head to rest at night in love with your authentic and transparent self. What you think of you will always trump what they think of you. When you align you with you it causes cellular cohesion. That’s a peace “fitting in” can never give you.
Humans are sexual beings. This is a fact that no one can really argue… I mean, it’s what creates us.
Despite the importance of sex to our evolution, we have an interesting, and often dysfunctional relationship with it though, don’t we? It’s something a lot of us fear, especially within our embedded cultural and religious beliefs…which are often synonymous.
And fear is a dangerous motivator, because if not met with curiosity, the things we fear often become the things we shame.
I have been working with (and know) so many people who hold a lot of shame on the subject of sex and sexuality. They (we) were raised to believe that masturbation, heavy petting (the Catholic way of saying second base), sex before marriage, sexual curiosity, sexual desire, sexual orientation… All of it – will send you to hell.
Have you ever taken a moment to consider the ramifications of such powerful and irrational messages about sexuality being sent to young (and old) minds; that they should fear their sexuality instead of seeking to understand it? It’s such a confusing message to receive as humans when the very thing that makes us is… SEX. **If you’re not familiar with it, it’s when the penis goes in the vagina. And then out. And then in. Until one (or both…ideally) makes an “O” face… and biology does its job.**
Even this discussion, mentioning penises and vaginas, will trigger many people. The fact that I’m so openly talking about sex and penetration makes many uncomfortable. And to those people, when you get uncomfortable, I invite you to get curious. Because often, underneath that discomfort, is shame around the subject and fear of your own perceivably deviant desires to get a finger in your butt, get spanked, or some nipple clamps… even, God forbid, try doggystyle. (which are all normal curiosities btw…)
The irony to all of this is that sexual conversations are usually labeled as “crass” by the very people who later on in the evening log onto Craigslist seeking “Casual Encounters”, surf porn, or hire a dominatrix… But there’s a consequence to sexual repression that goes far beyond the internet, and it’s not only in deviant sexual behaviour, it’s that we have to abandon ourselves and our own hearts in order to adapt to cultures and belief systems that say sexuality, and being sexual, is the work of the devil.
Sex is human. Desire is human. Curiosity is human. Curiosity around sex/sexuality is human. To embrace any belief that shames any/all of these truths requires abandoning ourselves and our true essence.
Beliefs/cultures/religions are tricky though.. because we want to fit in. That drive to fit in will make us do crazy things. It has us adopting beliefs that aren’t congruent with our hearts and living lives that feel heavy… lives that require us to send an actor in everyday to to play a role that we wouldn’t wish upon anyone. *(Religion in its essence is beautiful… I’m talking about the extremes that don’t embrace education surrounding sexuality and curiosity)
As humans we hold our beliefs SO close to our hearts that any threat to those beliefs not being true, makes us go to war, hurt others, and even reject our own family members…. It’s incredible really what we’ll do to praise a God and to keep religious and cultural belief systems alive. We are so terrified to be who we are… isn’t that insane?! We’re terrified to express our sexuality and to maybe accept that we’re meant to want to hump, to caress breasts and to tickle balls (or be the receiver of those things).
When it comes to sexuality and beliefs we have two options:
Abandon the belief system to hold our identity intact, OR;
Abandon ourselves to hold the belief…so we can fit into our community/religion/culture/society.
Choice numero uno leads to freedom, understanding, acceptance, curiosity and responsibility with our sexual energy because we’re not being shamed for it. AND, it allows others to be free too.
Choice number two has mannnnnny costs. What are they?
Let’s use the best case study we can of the consequences of sexual repression:
Okay, so we can argue the science and methodologies of the studies, OR, we can just accept what this data infers:
The price of abandoning ourselves is not just a sad life. It’s a painful life.
In contrast, in a 2013 Dutch study on BDSM (aka. Bondage, Discipline, Sadism, and Masochism) – These kinky sex practitioners, when compared to the general population, we’re less neurotic, more extroverted, more open to new experiences, more conscientious, less rejection sensitive, and had higher subjective well-being. Wow. Does seeking to understand and express our sexuality lead to happier and healthier humans? Hmmmm. Not a shock really, is it?
Let’s get back to the topic at hand though. Shame and repression have an enormous cost… We need anti-depressants to numb the pain of pretending to be someone else and not embracing our true selves. And because we aren’t free to explore sexually, we’ll just lock the door of our bedroom and watch other people get peed on… when we’re the ones who want to get peed on! Where’s the justice?!?
The truth is…everything in life demands to be felt. We can’t hide feelings and desires, they will always come out in some way. Unexpressed and repressed emotions live in the fabric of our being. If we hate our lives and who we’re pretending to be and we don’t actively change our lives, we will take drugs, form addictions, and either implode or explode. The soul demands expression. The heart seeks to create peaceful connection. The human spirit doesn’t need to be indoctrinated with values and morality… we can sense on a cellular level if something feels right or wrong.
So, I want you to tap into you. I want you to ask yourself if your beliefs feel congruent with your heart. You don’t need to be a Christian or a Jew or a Hindu or a Muslim or a Buddhist to be a good person, you just need to be you. When you show yourself kindness, love and acceptance, you are inherently kind, loving and accepting of others.
You don’t need to subscribe to any form of relationship that doesn’t feel right to you. You don’t have to be heterosexual if you’re not. You don’t have to believe things that cause you to feel shame and hurt. Adopt beliefs that have you feeling free and loved for who you truly are.
If you have to abandon yourself to believe anything, you never believed it in the first place.
We don’t get to choose our families that we’re born into. That’s a truth everyone can understand… and for some people that truth is very painful. The reality is that some of us win the family lottery, and others, not so much. For some of us, family will be the greatest support system and a place where our dreams and aspirations will not only be birthed, but also incredibly encouraged. And for others, family will be the source of pain and struggle, and more of a barrier to success rather than a catalyst to it.
It’s without a doubt that our childhood affects us. It has a strong influence on how we relate to other people, communicate, and often, why we’ll be drawn to different types of partners. Romantic love, to me, is where we go to heal a lot of our wounds; the wounds that were given to us by our parents, and to them by their parents…. and so on. Then, it would seem, that love, and pain, are both hereditary.
Despite the wide array of childhood experiences, we, on average seem to turn out pretty okay don’t we? A lack of love in our childhood can sometimes be the contrast we need to make love our priority as we age. Even a blissful childhood can reinforce the importance and power of sharing an emotionally-healed family tree. Yet we can often shame people with great childhoods… but that’s only because we wanted what they had.
As Carolyn Myss says, “One of the greatest sources of pain for almost all of us, is the giant misconception that we deserved a great childhood.” No one escapes childhood unscathed. We all have scars. We all have pain. And no one owns the copyright on hurt. My level ten of emotional pain might be your level three… but that doesn’t make my pain any less valid than yours, it just makes it different.
Regardless of our childhoods, where we come from doesn’t determine where we go, we do. We decide what our childhood means to us. We decide how to transform our pain into purpose… that is up to us.
To me, us healing as individuals is some of the most powerful work we will ever do because we are literally taking away generations of pain patterns and emotional wounds that have travelled through our DNA as we become the first person to say, “Never again. Never again will I allow someone to be unloved. Never again will I let the pain of my family be transmuted to the pain of my children. Never again will I allow fear and disconnection to get in the way of love, community, connection, and safe arms to be held and to hold.”
Healing is powerful shit. It’s not just for us… because when we heal ourselves, we heal all of those around us, and most importantly, we heal up. And by up, I mean we shoot healing laser beams up our relatives’ asses and even to all the dead ones that passed on their hurt.
I was working with a client recently who said to me, “But why do my mom & dad deserve my love if they’re the very reason I’m having to process and feel all of this pain, hurt and trauma?” To which I replied, “Imagine if your parents have never felt what it’s like to receive unconditional love? And you get to be the first person to give that to them?” Phewwwwf. That’s some boombastic stuff that hits us right in the feels. When we love unconditionally, for a lot of people, that will be the first time they’ve ever experienced it.
And you know, not all of our parents and relatives are going to respond well to our love and forgiveness… but remember, we’re not giving other people love SO THAT they’ll respond a certain way. That’s conditional love. We’re sending others love and forgiveness simply because that’s the energy we send out into the world.
“I love you no matter what. Whether you choose me. Whether you receive my love. Whether you’re even capable. I love you because love heals. And when I give you love, despite alllllll the reasons I have not to, in doing so, I love myself. I heal me. Through you, I find me.”
Easy to say, right? I want to share with you a true story about this very subject:
I have a friend who comes from one of those families where everything you hear from his childhood makes your heart cringe. You wonder how parents could ever be like his. You can feel his heart and the pain that has been transplanted into him. You can feel his search for healing. You can see the child who never really felt loved for who he truly is.
He was raised religious… and when he barely turned twenty one, he got married. That’s what they did in his family, community and religion. But he didn’t marry for love…he thought he did back then, but more so he married because he thought he was supposed to… I mean, it’s what you do, right? We follow the stories and narratives of those who surround us.
Despite the obvious space and disconnect between him and his wife, he was receiving the approval of his church and family. Throughout this time he was desperately disconnected from himself. His religion shamed true self-expression and he felt trapped… And when we feel trapped we do desperate things. So, he had an affair.
His marriage would end because of that (and clearly much greater issues)… and so too would be the beginning of the end of his relationship with his family. His father and mother slowly distanced themselves from their son because they felt ashamed of his choices, his failed marriage and disassociation from the church. He was not being a good practitioner of his religion. He was not being an “ideal” son. He was human, flawed, imperfect, like all of us… but he was not given the space to make mistakes and to learn…. but boy, was he learning.
He would go on to marry the woman he had an affair with. No gaps between relationships. No time alone. One day, she said to him, “I don’t trust that if I were unable to work, that you could support us.” This cut deep.
This man had never felt supported. He didn’t know what a safe and secure relationship felt or looked like…. It was never modelled for him. He was terrified that she would leave him…. So he cheated on her too. Hurt her before she hurts him. Prove that he’s not lovable because he does unlovable things and never felt loved by his family… and the pain pattern continues.
So now, we have a vulnerable and lost man who’s never truly been himself. Who became the type of person and made the type of choices to get the love and inclusion of his family, community and religion. And yet, despite following the path he was taught, has never been more lonely, alone and abandoned…. by his family, community and religion. Shitty deal, right?
He was terrified that he would never achieve financial success to be enough to get the love of a woman. So, what did he do next? He started running drugs to make quick and easy money… and he was quickly and easily caught.
The thing he feared most, loneliness, would be forced upon him as he was sentenced to twenty-eight months in prison. In there, he would finally face his choices, his heart, his soul… and he would come face-to-face with his truth.
Today, that man is a great friend of mine. He’s one of the most giving, loving and community-oriented people I know. He has built a great business, and a wonderful life.
Not so long ago he wrote his parents a letter expressing his experience. He told them about his pain, about how much it has hurt that they haven’t made an effort to speak to him in ten years. That religion and family should always be accepting and loving… and that has not been his experience with them. He told them that, despite all of this, he loves them and forgives them… and yet, he still hasn’t heard back.
But that doesn’t phase him. You know why? Because this man has taught me that we can create our own families. We have a ritual in our community where we have “Framily” (friends+family) dinner every couple of weeks. The host rotates and so does the theme. Friends are encouraged to bring others who don’t know anyone… new transplants to Vancouver or maybe just passing through. People who maybe don’t have a family and may have never known one.
If this sounds amazing to you, create it just like we have. It may sound scary (and super exciting) but I want you to know that, despite where you come from and whatever your past is, you can create what you seek. You can be the architect of the life and family you want. You don’t have to wait for anyone else to give it to you… the healing comes when you give it to yourself and then share that love with all of those around you. I don’t even know you… and I can tell you that I love you.
Friends can be far better brothers, sisters or parents than our own. Our past doesn’t dictate our future. We don’t forgive others so that they may move forward, we forgive them so we can.
We don’t need to be blood to be family, nor do we need church to find God. We are all family, and knowing unconditional love, is knowing God.
The cynicism surrounding Valentine’s Day is enormous. It only takes one peek at our FB newsfeed to see people buying into it or remarking how it’s a “Hallmark Holiday”.
There is tremendous value in the holiday though. For some couples it’s an amazing opportunity to celebrate their love for one another, and for others it’s a necessary reminder as to the importance of expressing our love to the special people in our lives. The reminder is great, but what does it say about the state of love and relationships that we need this reminder?
And for single people, if the pressure they feel every other day of the year wasn’t bad enough, V-Day is that pressure on speed and steroids. Combine that lonely desperation with alcohol at the bar and it’s a recipe for some high pressure loving that will lead nowhere good, unless good is an orgasm.
Why do we need to HAVE to have someone to celebrate this day with, and if we don’t, we’re a failure?
I think V-Day just perpetuates a commonly endorsed misconception and belief about relationships:
Being “in a relationship” is better than being single.
The truth is that being happy has nothing to do with being in a relationship, and everything to do with just being happy, alone.
Research suggests this too. It’s happy people who have great relationships, not people in relationships who are happy.
In other words: Happy single people become happy romantic partners.
Happy people report greater relationship satisfaction, improved health outcomes, and a lower divorce rate.
Of course healthy relationships and shared connections are important, but it’s not a romantic relationship that is predictive of our level of happiness, but more so relationships in general.
People who have great interpersonal relationships with friends, family, and lovers, are happier.
Not surprisingly, they also have a great relationship with themselves. They can sit comfortably in their own thoughts and find peace and fulfillment through spending time alone.
“My alone feels so good, I’ll only have you if you’re sweeter than my solitude.” – Warsan Shires
Because truthfully, it’s always been about falling in love with ourselves first. It’s from that place where we choose relationship partners who add to our already amazing life. That way we know we’re picking kick-a*s people who remind us that love comes from a place that’s whole, not empty. If they don’t improve our lives and help us grow, and us do the same for them, then they are not welcome to join us on the ride.
Sure, even when we find someone from that place of fulfillment we can still take each other for granted and the little “wake-up” that V-Day can provide is important to remind us that it’s all about the little things.
The types of things that are the fuel to continued love and connection.
“Do what you did at the beginning of the relationship and there won’t be an end.” ~Tony Robbins
Love is born through everything we do. Love is a verb.
And we need to communicate it on the daily.
I’m not saying we need to buy our partner chocolate and such each and every day. What I am saying is couples can, and need to, consistently communicate love through how they speak to and interact with one another in each moment.
Something as simple as buying your lady her favourite coffee on your way home from work, or getting dressed up to look sexy because we want to capture their heart and show each other we’re still trying.
That’s it. People want to know that they matter.
They want to know that you’ll still fight for them and try to win their love.
They want to know that you’ll pry their heart open when they’re on the verge of closing it and still wine and dine them to get some loving by earning it, not expecting it.
They don’t want you to skip foreplay because “it’s just not something we do anymore”.
All of these things matter, and intimacy and sexual connection need to be a beautiful event and production at times.
Sometimes candles are nice. Sometimes lingerie is.
Team that up with some R&B and handcuffs and we have a party.
Valentine’s Day is just another day, and it’s all about how we use each and every day to improve how we are showing up to the world and to love.
Although this is the “official” day we celebrate, it should be no different than any other.
It is a beautiful reminder that we should never forget love requires effort.
Whether we’re single or taken, being happy and personally fulfilled is the most important thing we can do for not only ourselves, but also for our partner, even if we haven’t met them yet.
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When I was twenty-seven I was in a five-year long relationship. The woman was (is) beautiful, kind, smart, athletic… she was basically perfect. But yet, despite what I tell you, there was just something in me that was screaming and gnawing at my soul that I wasn’t where I needed to be. This is about my journey through that… and a little more.
This seems shocking to read, right?! Most people thought what you’re thinking right now, “Why the fuck would you potentially question that type of partner? Hot and smart? You idiot.” All I can tell you is that it just didn’t feel right. Knowing what I had (her), and feeling what I felt was a great source of pain for me… because my intellectual mind was saying, “This is what you’re supposed to want”.
And my emotional brain replied, “But it’s not what you want.” That gap made me feel sick.
On the day we got engaged my world imploded. I looked at her as we shared the joys of her reply to my invitation to matrimonial bliss, and all I could think to myself was, “I think I’m supposed to be more excited than this.”
For the next three months my stomach was in knots…
My nights out became later, my beer consumption increased. I would sleep in our spare room and tell her I was feeling sick, when in actual fact I was secretly searching the internet for the answer to:
“How do you know if he/she is the one?”
Not surprisingly I wasn’t the first to search this subject. I stumbled upon many articles and forums with women buzzing about… the odd man would enter the conversation, with his digital head down, shamefully searching for an answer to a question most of us (especially men) are scared to ask.
But that’s where I found myself… among the often frequented, but not often spoken about, alleyways of the internet. (maybe a couple porn sites too…)
It was in that darkly lit forum that I would share my story with what I now consider saviours and angels. I would spend hours reading the stories of others and their answered questions. And honestly, I was really searching the depths of my desperate soul to understand why I felt the way I felt.
In the mornings my fiancé and I would have coffee and as she would walk out the door to work I could feel the shame and guilt wash over me… I felt like an awful person to have brought someone down this path while feeling so much trepidation and uncertainty. I would look at her through the mask of contentment I wore… An actor who was playing far too many roles; roles that weigh heavily on the soul.
It would be in the second month of our engagement that I would be asked three questions that would forever change the course of my life (of which I’ll share my answers):
1. Would you be okay if she left you tomorrow? Yes. Yes I would. Actually, I would be more than okay. I would feel like a million pounds lifted off my shoulders and the burden of responsibility to those around me to get married by ____ years old, have kids by __ years old… all of that bullshit would be gone and I could finally scream, “FUCK THE SYSTEM”. I have written before about how in these moments when we’re afraid to leave, we try to force our partners to leave. We drink, we respond sharply, we distance ourselves, we lie, we cheat. We even wish they would cheat on us, and some of my clients/readers have even admitted to having wanted their partner to die.
My gawd the lengths we will go to avoid hurting others and listening to our souls… all to not experience the pain of failing in relationship, and more specifically, being the one who ended it. But alas, I digress to the next…
2. Can you imagine what the altar would be like waiting for her, whatever your “altar” may be? No… I cannot. And even the idea of being at the altar hurts my stomach. It makes me scared, nervous, anxious… The challenging part about these feelings is that I was sold my whole life that “men are just afraid of commitment”, so that’s the message that I used to make this anxiety make sense. But I can tell you today, from my lens of clarity and understanding in looking back at my experience, that some fear related to relationships is healthy and normal, but terrifying anxiety is not. And a fear of commitment, whether you’re male or female, can have many pathologies… but don’t be so quick to dismiss your feelings and anxieties because someone one day shamed someone from leaving by saying they’re “afraid of commitment”. This fucking comment makes my blood boil because it’s so dismissive and lacks any sort of curious inquiry…. But that’s a whole other article.
The third, and most powerful question I have ever been asked:
3. Can someone else love her better? Yes. Absolutely 150% yes. This is the one question that kicked me square in the balls. And I’m not talking the kind of kick that grazes the left nut… I mean the winding up, take a run, field goal in the sacro-illiac.
It hit me. Finally. I saw it all. I was so scared to leave. I had been on a journey searching for an answer that I had always known was there. I was searching for the answer to be anything but what I knew to be true.
I look back now and I can see that I was so terrified of hurting her… I was terrified of letting go of someone so amazing. I was petrified of not meeting the expectations of my community, my friends, my family, and… loosely, deep in my subconscious, my religion/God.
But in order to maintain this facade I was not only hurting myself, I was lying to and hurting her. Sure, I deserved love that made me scream from the rooftops, but more importantly, in that space of my fear and cowardice, she deserved it more. She deserved truth. She deserved to be loved for the fabulous and amazing woman that she was and is today.
(SPOILER ALERT) I ended it. Ok… you knew that was coming.
It was both one of the most challenging conversations I’ve ever had to start, and also one of the most beautiful moments of my life, because I finally, despite all of the pressure and all of the reasons I should’ve married her, chose me.
That decision, up until this point in my life, has been one of the most powerful decisions I have ever made. I acknowledged my pain. I acknowledged my heart. I saw the child in me, who was so scared, and I grabbed his hand and told him, “It’s going to be okay, we’ve got this. I’m not sure what the future looks like, but you are finally free of the emotional anvil that has plagued every cell of your body.”
I want to tell you what it means to leave. I want to tell you what it means to let down someone you love, hurt them, and also know that it’s the right thing to do, and necessary. I want to be able to answer all of your questions and lead you to the same peace I feel. But I don’t think one can verbalize such an experience. It must be had. But I’ll tell you where it led me:
In the days and months after I left the relationship I was pissed. People I loved, and thought loved me, pushed me away. Some people talked behind my back, some people shamed and threw words that felt like daggers. Many told me I was:
“Afraid of commitment”
“Afraid to grow up”
And that I had “Peter Pan Syndrome.”
Some told me that I would never find anyone like her again.
These types of people will always exist… In a way I think they are a test to see if we’re truly willing to stand in our truth and in our integrity. I see them now as people who were put in my path to test my fortitude and to build my resilience. You must know for yourself too that they are driven by fear because our choices scare them. More specifically, my choice meant they could be left someday. My choice challenged the system that says:
“You work through anything and everything.”
“This generation treats love like it’s disposable”
“You made a commitment”
What I’m most grateful for though is that people loved me. People held me up when I thought I had no future. Even strangers saw the human in me; that I was hurt, confused, and lost… and loved me for it. I will be forever grateful for the friends and family I have…for their love was so much more powerful than the messages of those living in fear. They were the hope I needed to take one step, even if it was small, everyday.
The challenge with our world (among many) is that, unless there’s some form of physical and mental abuse, no one has support for the person who leaves. I’m certainly not a victim of the experience, but we’re so inundated with these messages around relationships and marriage needing to last forever that we treat those who leave as if they’ve murdered someone. As if they’ve failed at something there is no space to fuck up with.
So, needless to say, when I left, I was pissed at the people who lied to me. Because I finally saw that we hold marriage to this ideal that “You marry someone and you stay with them forever. Maybe in love, maybe not. You work through everything…that’s what marriage is.”
The love part didn’t matter though, because our ability to “stay together” is what we’ve made determine our self worth.
Want the evidence? Look at how we celebrate anniversaries instead of the quality of a relationship. When was the last time you heard someone say, “With every passing year we raise our communication game. I have never known her as well as I do now, and I’m so happy to support and love her on her journey and in her dreams.”
Instead we hear, “Oh, you made it to twenty years!! Amazing!!”
Followed by whispers… “I heard she’s banging Ben, her trainer… and he’s been humping Teresa for years.”
We have been lied to about marriage. We have been sold a story that is so filled with holes that I can’t believe the revolt has taken so long.
Want the truth?
Most relationships don’t last forever (you already knew this…come on…)
Not all people who are married are happy. A lot. Many. More than we’re willing to acknowledge.
Most people don’t actually know how to be in healthy, loving, emotionally expansive relationships.
If previous generations think we leave too soon, it is equally as safe to say that many people also stay far. too. long. As in, they die, in misery. Married though. So at least they die with jewelry.
This is why I don’t want one of those relationships. They are fake, full of shit, lack emotional connection, and are really just a couple people living together who fart, do laundry, and maybe eat dinner at the same table.
I want more. I think we all do… it’s just that no one has taught us how to even create a deep and fulfilling relationship. There is no education on relationships, and for that reason most of us will follow the path we’ve been sold by our cultures, religions and societies that say we have to marry “this” type of person, who’s “this” gender, “this” colour, and/ or “this” religion. Fuck that. This is why our hearts and souls scream to us at night, we’re all on antidepressants and, as Brene Brown said, injecting our ass fat into our faces. We do drugs, drink, seek fleeting romances, all because we’re terrified of going against a system. We’d rather live completely out of alignment with who we are so that we don’t threaten the lives of those around us.
For just over the last ten years I have studied relationships; What makes them work, why they don’t, and the intricacies of human psychology and why we do the things we do. And I studied all of this from a very selfish place: to understand myself and how the fuck I got engaged when I knew I didn’t want to. Crazy. Expensive. Fucking. Choice.
Your life lessons don’t have to be expensive (although most are). I want you to know that you don’t have to do shit you don’t want to anymore. You are not a prisoner because of a decision you made when you didn’t know what you know today. You can love however the fuck you want. You don’t have to marry in the same religion, culture or colour. You can marry a dude, a chick, or both. You can get peed on in the bedroom, you can lick butts and you can make deep, soulful love. You can be true to yourself.
The response to this by those fearful, scared people I mentioned before is generally a giant reaction that it’s going to make everyone sluts and that it means people will be selfish and destructive… people are destructive when they don’t feel loved and accepted for who they are. When people are unconditionally loved, they don’t need vices and pain outlets. (Antidepressant, sleeping, and diet pill sales are gonna plummet!!) So my only caveat to all of this advice is that you live a life of integrity and with kindness. When you’re kind to others, you’re kind to yourself.
In the thirty-eight years of my life I have been the funny kid, the athlete, the chubby kid, the pretty boy, the heartbroken guy, the player, the man whore, the college bro (I had frosted tips and wore abercrombie….gawwwwd), the pharmaceutical rep, the white picket fence checklist guy, the booty caller, the blackout drinker, the intellectual, the poet… and now, after all of that, I am me.
That journey didn’t come easy. Or free. Or simply. It unfolded and continues to unfold exactly as it should. I didn’t know why I needed to leave my engagement, but I had to. I didn’t want to leave the security of my job to become a writer and a relationship coach… but I had to. I didn’t want to run an annual conference when I didn’t know how, but I had to. I answer the call each time I get it because I now understand that we don’t get to be certain and to be in love with anything; people, jobs, dreams… all of them require vulnerability. They require leaping and letting go of what we know to be true. They require trusting. Yourself. The universe. Your heart.
Today I have a job I love. I have a partner I love. And I have never felt more connected to myself, the people around me, and now, to you. I know you may not have all of the answers today, but I promise you, one day, each leap will make sense, you just have to take it.
Trust. Trust. Trust. And love. A lot. You got this mutha fucka. Now go get it.
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