The way I hurdled headlong into what I thought was love three years ago is so clichéd that I won’t even bother describing the intoxicating fireworks. It was a star-crossed, impossible relationship from the get-go, a doomed love affair heading for a crash and burn we both should have anticipated, but we didn’t see it coming. We both made promises we had no business making, and it felt so seductive to believe we could keep them. We were reckless and narcissistic, believing in magic and miracles, instead of facing the inevitable reality that would one day smack us in the ass.

Amid the wild projections of true love realized on earth, he foresaw a devastating future that I hadn’t seen. He made a promise because of what he foresaw. “Something terrible will happen,” he said, “and you will abandon Us. But I never will. You will come and go, but each time you leave and come back, I will still be here. I will hold steadfast and protect Us, even when you don’t.” I laughed at his silly prediction. Why would I ever leave the man I love more than I’ve ever loved any man? “You will,” he predicted. And he was right.

Soon afterward, he made a choice that tore apart the fabric of Us as we knew it. The fantasy illusion shattered, as illusions always must, and I was left wrecked, sobbing in the arms of my best friend, who rocked me like a mother while I used Lamasse breathing to breathe through the contractions of my heartbreak as if I were hee-hee, hoo-hooing through labor pains. I didn’t know at the time that this is when the real, raw, broken, unglamorous story of Us would begin.

At first, I did what most lovers do when they feel hurt and betrayed—I slammed closed the doors of my heart as a natural and understandable act of self-protection. I indulged my righteous anger and used the heat of that fury as lighter fluid for boundary-setting, withdrawing my body from his beautiful hands and reclaiming it for myself, but taking the risk of letting him keep my heart. Perhaps, I suggested, love can change form. Maybe we can be “heartners” instead of partners. Might we keep the heart connection alive without being lovers? Could we sit in the flame of our eros without shutting down our hearts? Could I keep my body safe from the vulnerability of his penetration without leaving the relationship completely?

Instead of entering gently into the experiment of how our love could transform into “heartnership,” his reaction to the pain of my bodily rejection led him to make a choice that felt to me like a nearly unforgivable act of betrayal. His point of view justified his choice differently. He rationalized it as his unalienable right to follow the free flow of eros wherever it might lead, and maybe his point of view is more enlightened than mine. I will not claim a righteous stand here or demonize him, nor will I employ the “spiritual bypass” to skip over how hurt I felt. As Rumi says, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.” I so wanted to meet my beloved in that field, but first, I had to feel the heat of my anger and the depths of my grief, to reckon with my pain and question my discernment.

The story I told myself in the devastation of the next months is that he broke his promise. He abandoned Us, when he promised he never would. So I did the same. His prediction came true. I ran away, kicking myself with every step of my retreat for giving away my body and my heart so recklessly and prematurely. We didn’t speak for two months because I couldn’t handle having him anywhere close.

Then synchronicity put us within an hour of each other—me in Mount Shasta, California and him just north of the Oregon border. He said he wanted to see me, and my whole nervous system fired into stress response, as if an unpredictable wild animal was on the loose. Would this beautiful, charismatic leopard bite me again if I got seduced into being near him? Had I been victimized by a sociopath who lacked empathy? I read up on a narcissism and sociopathic behavior and made a strong case for why I should keep my distance.

Yet…I doubted myself. Was this intuition protecting me? Or fear separating me from my love for him—and Us? Was this fierce fury erecting necessary, healthy boundaries? Or were these walls keeping love out? Could both be true in paradox? I couldn’t tell. I felt spun out and couldn’t fully feel mySelf.

I didn’t know how to handle his request to see me, so I prayed to the Great Mystery. “If it’s aligned with Divine Will for Us to see one another, please send me a miracle of the heart so I can forgive. If I’m meant to keep my distance, please make it clear.” I fell asleep early at Stewart Hot Springs without responding to his invitation.

At 1 a.m., something I couldn’t see tapped me on the shoulder and woke me up. My heart beat wildly, because, like most humans, I’m not used to being touched by something I can’t see, and until that moment, I didn’t think such a thing was possible. I was wide-awake but could feel a warm “hand” on my shoulder, only there was nothing in the room with me that I could see with my eyes. Had my heartbreak made me nuts? Was I hallucinating?

When I settled down enough to get curious, to give the invisible hand the benefit of the doubt and ask who was here and why, I heard in the space of silence, “Go to Panther Meadows.” I had never been to Mount Shasta before, and I had never heard of Panther Meadows. The night before, when I had arrived in Mount Shasta, Oregon was in the midst of a giant summer wildfire, so the mountain had been covered in smoke, obscured completely by a grey-brown cloud of ash. I had been advised against going up to the mountain because of the poor air quality at such an elevation.

“Go to Panther Meadows?” I asked. “Now?” The Presence said yes. I felt confused. I was alone with some invisible Being who was giving me instructions my mind didn’t understand. It was the middle of the night in a place I’d never been before. I didn’t even know if Panther Meadows existed, so I Googled it and found that there was a campground there, about an hour’s drive from where I was staying. Feeling insane but fairly certain I was receiving some mysterious spiritual guidance, I packed up my things and drove in the inky black smoke to Panther Meadows, where I parked my car and walked by flashlight through the sleepy campers out to a vast meadow, where I found a spot to lay down a blanket. A wave of panic crept over me. What if wild animals attacked me? What if I got trapped in a wildfire, here in the dark night? What was I doing here?

The voice that had been guiding me instructed me to sit in the lotus position, tune into the sound healing playlist on my iPod, and settle in to listen and feel what wanted to emerge. I spent the next hour feeling my nervous system calm into a slow pulse of peace. My fear and resistance fell away, and as it did I thought of him. Then I thought of Us. I could feel him just an hour away from me, sleeping in some unknown bed with God only knows who. As I imagined him in bed with some woman I don’t know, I felt guarding in my heart space. How dare he ask to see me? My pride spiked. He didn’t deserve me anymore. He lost any right to see me the minute he did what he did. If he wanted to retain the right to keep me in his life, he should have made different choices to protect Us. He hadn’t even apologized. I didn’t sense one morsel of remorse in him. Why should I put myself in harm’s way again? I could feel my nervous system acting up again, my heart beating faster, my breathing short and labored, a knot forming a painful, empty pit in my solar plexus, the muscles in my temples tensing up.

Then the voice said, “Open your eyes. Open your heart.” When I did, I saw that the cloud of smoke had opened a perfect heart-shaped hole so that I could see the stars. As I watched it, the hole expanded and over the next few minutes, I could see the whole star-filled sky, free from any light pollution or smoke. A shooting star blazed across the blackness, then faded, just as another shooting star crisscrossed it. As I watched, I realized something unusual was happening. Every 10 seconds or so—another shooting star, like cosmic fireworks giving me a private show. I was moved to tears, sense-drenched in awe.

For the next several hours, I watched what I later found out was the Perseid meteor shower. So that I didn’t miss any of the sparkles, I relaxed my gaze so I wasn’t focusing on any one part of the sky, and as I did, one huge meteor lit up the whole night, as if it crashed into our atmosphere and hit the earth somewhere nearby. As my eyes focused where the meteor has just traversed the sky, the blackness returned and when it did, I was left gazing at two stars the same way I once gazed into his eyes. I felt like the stars were as in love with me as he had been, and I returned the love back to these two stars. They gazed at me with the same penetrating intensity that he once did. It was so easy to fall into love with stars. There is no resistance! No hurt. The stars aren’t guarded to your love the way a human might be. The stars won’t look away. I felt my heart bursting with love for the cosmos.

It felt safe to fall in love at first sight out here in the great meadow. I cried as my heart broke open again, and as it did, I realized that my love for him had not changed one bit, that it felt necessary to honor my heartbreak, but my heartbreak didn’t deny the still present love I felt for him. I wondered if perhaps I could love him as much as I loved the stars, that perhaps he still loved me the way the cosmos loved me. I could feel the implant of his consciousness in my bursting heart, and I knew in that moment I would say yes to seeing him when the dawn broke.

As the sunrise cast its rosy glow on Mount Shasta at daybreak, I texted him to say, “Okay mother fucker, I’ll meet you at 9 a.m.” We agreed to meet on a hiking trail halfway between us. When he saw me, I could tell he was about to speak, to defend himself maybe, to intellectualize what had happened, or perhaps to apologize. But I couldn’t handle words. Instead, I put my finger to my lips and mouthed, “Shhhhhhh…” I took his hand in mine, and we walked in silence. The intensity of the emotions arising in the space between us nearly took my breath away, especially because the smoke was back, and we were climbing uphill. We sat to rest on a bench, and as we sat there, I found myself overtaken by an irrational, erotic part which I would later demonize. Succumbing to this impulse, I held his face between my hands and kissed him. He responded hungrily, and our kiss was full of question marks. What does this mean? What happens next?

That one kiss transitioned into a passionate makeout session on a log in the forest on top of the plateau, where all the views were obscured by the thick smoke. As we got lost in the embrace of Us, a buck with a full rack approached us, taking us off guard until he saw the deer and pulled away from me in shock. He started to speak, and I hushed him.


The deer came close enough that we could almost touch him. My heart burst open again as I gazed at the black eyes of that deer, whose piercing eyes were as black as the stars were white. The love that shone from that buck’s black eyes was as pure and unguarded as the love that streamed from those two stars. When I turned to look at him, his brown eyes had softened into the same unguarded gaze, his lids trembling with hesitation. I softened too. It wouldn’t last forever, but in that moment, we had returned to love.

That was two and a half years ago, and it was our last kiss, but it was the beginning of what has become our real love story. Since that smoky summer day, every iteration of how we could define Us in the way my mind likes and understands has fallen away. I have suffered one indignity after another in the name of Us. My pride has taken a beating, and my mind has done its best to convince me that I would be better off finding the closest exit and running as far away from him as I possibly can, that I deserve better, that he isn’t worthy of the love that pulses between Us. I am amazed at the tenacity with which my mind grasps to stories that cast him as the devil and me as the righteous angel.

My mind can make up story after story about how it’s unhealthy for me to still be in love with someone who doesn’t treat me the way I deserve, how I should abandon Us altogether because it’s what healthy people do. I have prayed to stop loving him, and if I’m not meant to stop loving him, I have prayed to let go of the story that I’m fucked up if I still do. I have prayed that God/Goddess will kill the story of Us—as a mercy killing, so I can move on and find a richer, deeper, more nourishing love. I have taken every possible side in the debate of why it is wise to abandon Us, how the only way to stay is to abandon myself. I have begged to stop feeling what I feel for him, and if there’s any unhealthy hook from my old Daddy wounds, I have prayed to heal them so I simply feel nothing one day. I pray for apathy, and then I take it back because I can’t bear to imagine not caring. One foot on the gas. One foot on the brakes, I wrestle with myself.

I have opened myself to countless therapy sessions and cord-cutting rituals. I have gone along with the counsel of people I want to trust, who sound logical and practical. I have studied up on “spiritual bypassing” and called myself out on my tendencies to abandon myself. I have read everything Robert Augustus Masters writes about “blind compassion,” “premature forgiveness,” and “neurotic tolerance” in the name of unconditional love. I have learned to set clear boundaries and enforce consequences when those boundaries are violated. I have practiced asking for what I need and withdrawing certain intimacies without withdrawing love if someone has no interest in meeting my needs. (Read about the Intimacy Dial here.)

I have stopped rationalizing what is not okay with me, and as a result, I have stopped abandoning myself in the name of love. I finally realized that I can’t truly love him—or anyone else—if I am not loving myself first. It was an epiphany last Independence Day when I realized that my desire not to abandon myself is greater than my desire for connection. Since that awareness landed, I have slowly come back to him and to Us, one cautious step at a time, tuning in every step of the journey to my own heart, slowing down when it says I’m going too fast, listening deeply and generously to the traumatized part that gets activated by him, promising to love the little girl in me even more than I love him, reassuring her that she comes first, and I will only expose her to him if she says it’s okay.

She has been reticent. She does not wish to get hurt again, but as she grows to trust me, and as I prove to her that I will not ever betray her again the way he betrayed Us, that I will not let him hurt her anymore, that I will have her back, even if he doesn’t, she has softened her protection and allowed me to spend more time with him. My little girl acts up just a bit each time I see him. He does some small thing that leaves her feeling neglected or abandoned. Her perpetual story is “I’m not a priority to him,” a story my little girl knows well from the benevolent neglect of my father, who didn’t fully know how to love his little girl.

Every time he triggers that old, old Daddy wound, I do trauma healing and clearing work around that deep, core wound, and as the ancient trauma heals, he triggers my little girl less and less. Although I carry him and Us in my heart every day, although he is in my awareness almost all the time, I have seen him only a few times for brief, sacred moments over the past two and a half years. Each encounter has been increasingly less triggering for me—and for him. We are slowly rebuilding trust—me with my little girl, him with me, me with him.

This past fall, after two years of hardcore back-to-back trauma in my life (mostly unrelated to him), I felt like I was finally ready to heal the wounds of Us. My strength was growing. I felt this intense power surge in the wake of losing my mother, and it empowered me to take some scary risks.

I saw him the day after attending my mother’s funeral, when I was in a deeply soft, vulnerable place. He grinned when he saw me, like an unguarded little child lighting up with delight. One small thing he did triggered me, but it was a small thing—my wound to heal. Instead of running away from the trigger, I asked him to sit with my trigger and journey with me through my process. My little girl felt safe, so she let me lean in.

Together, with him and my little girl, I entered a crucible I had been too hurt to enter before, and I asked him if he would bear witness to my process. He showed up for this challenging reckoning in a way that moves me to tears even thinking about it. Every day for about six weeks, I was doing the deep work necessary to face the devastation I couldn’t fully bear to face in the beginning. We wrote letters back and forth, the kinds of love letters that are publishable. (Simone de Bourvier and Jean Paul Sarte, eat your heart out.) I felt heard and seen and validated and…loved. Really loved. Not the fantasy love of pop love songs, but the real, mature, tested, hardcore  love of people who go to the mat and duke it out and come up bloody but bright-eyed, purified by pain and stripped to the core of Love Itself. He said, “You know, I do not love you because you’re wonderful. And I don’t love you because you’re not wonderful. I just love you.”

Whoa…isn’t that what we all crave, to be seen in our brilliance and our shadow, to be known and understood, to be accepted and loved, not just in spite of our imperfections, but perhaps even because of them? Some frozen fence around my heart melted, even as the cynic in me chided, “Ha! Nice line…”

As we wrestled through our process, it became evident to me—in a way that left me feeling humbled—that he had indeed kept his original promise. He had been right when he said I would spin out and self-protect and abandon Us, and he would be the one who stayed. It hadn’t felt like he stayed at the time. I wasn’t getting anything I wanted, and my little girl had an outright tantrum. She spit and swore, lashing out and insisting that he destroyed Us with his reckless selfishness—and through one lens, he did. But if I switch points of view, I can see that it was also true that I kept being the one to leave. Me. Not him. And every time I left and came back, he was there.

At no point did he say, “You know, it hurts too much that you keep coming and going. I can’t handle all this shaming and attacking, you calling me a mother fucker and casting me as a scoundrel. I think I’m going to opt out now to protect my own heart.” He would have had every right to do so, and perhaps a good therapist might have advised him to keep his distance from me. But he never stepped out of the heat I brought. He was not getting what he wanted from me (sex). I was not getting what I wanted from him (bandwidth and security). Yet we were still here—doing this dance three years later.

I had to ask, “Is this love?” Or is this what love is not? I felt so uncertain and humbled by how much I do not know about love.

A friend who knows us both offered me sound advice. “When you think of him, Lissa, focus on the long arc of love.”

The long arc of love.

The minute she said it, the first line of 1st Corinthians 13 flew into my consciousness. “Love is patient.”

Oh….(palm to forehead).


Love is PATIENT.

What if my love for him could be patient? What would happen then?

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.” (ESV)


This does not mean that love is not also fierce and boundaried, discerning and ferocious like a Mama Bear. But wow. What if love does not insist on its own way? Then what?

I felt deep into that space in my heart where Us still lives, and I asked Us what would serve Us. The being that is Us spoke to me like a lover and said, “Give him time. Give him space. Let him take the initiative. If it serves love, be willing to let him go all the way, as the greatest act of love you could possibly give him. Give him permission to abandon his promise to hold and tend Us. If he chooses to stay, let it be his sincere choice.”

So a month ago, I asked if we could speak. He lives far away, so it’s not easy to get together in person for intimate conversations. He’s always stretched so thin that even an uninterrupted phone call is a rare luxury, but he granted my request. During our conversation, I explained that I was not abandoning him or Us, but that I was going to let go of tending the relationship. I would not seek him out. I would demand nothing of him. I would get my needs met in other relationships and relieve him of any burden he might feel to show up for me when he has so little bandwidth to be there when I need him.

“I don’t need you to be the one who stays anymore,” I said through tears. “It’s okay if you need to go.” I explained that I only wanted him to initiate contact if it felt real and true, that if he was showing up for me only because he pitied me or felt guilty or obligated because of any past transgressions, I wanted him to know I forgive him all the way, and I don’t want his pity, that I’m a big girl and I can handle a permanent goodbye. It was a terrifying act—to let go, to put all the cards in his hands, to trust him to determine the fate of Us, even if that meant saying goodbye.

I cried as we spoke because I knew it might mean I wouldn’t hear from him again—that given permission, he might withdraw—as a kindness to himself because our needs are incompatible, as a kindness to me, so I can move on and stop feeding an impossible love. I have lost seven people I adored in the past two years, and with each one, I felt blessed to know that the last communication I had with each beloved was effusively affectionate. All but two of the seven had died unexpectedly, tragically, very prematurely. We hadn’t consciously known our last communication was goodbye, but as I reflected in my grief, I felt so blessed that all seven goodbyes were worthy of the love we’d experienced together.

Because I knew I could lose him—or he could lose me—with zero warning, I wanted to tell him every love story I could possibly muster, just in case it was our last goodbye. Through tears and laughter, I retold the story of Us, my heart bursting with gratitude from all the joy and the bliss, and even the growth that accompanied the pain and the heartbreak. I didn’t want him to ever think back on me and feel regret or self-loathing. I only wanted him to feel my love. Mid gush, he stopped me. He didn’t want me to complete the goodbye. He just wanted to express his relief at my decision to hand him the reins of Us, even if it meant that he needed to set the reins down completely.

When we hung up the phone, I rocked the little girl in me for hours and relived the heartbreak all over again, but this time, it was the hemorrhage of the wide-open heart, the waterfall of my love for him pouring out without leaving me anemic. The more love that poured out, the more full I felt from the love that was rushing in. Some old, old part of me held me in great arms of love and whispered, “Well done, sweetheart.”

The next day I was shocked when he called me as a friend might about something comforting and trivial. Two days later, he called me again. The day after that, I received a text that said simply, “You were right.” I jokingly told him to say no more—that I could die happy without one more word from him, that this one text could feed me for the rest of my life. But he didn’t stop there. He went on to reveal a vulnerable opening of awareness inside of him, one that he wanted me to bear witness to. I felt this gush of tenderness in the presence of his vulnerability. Not one part of me felt inclined to say, “I told you so.” Well…okay…maybe one little bitty part did, but most of me just felt so grateful to be validated for what I had been trying to express for three years, which he had always defended.

A few weeks of silence passed, and then a few days ago, I got a text telling me that he was in the Bay area and wanted to see me. The days he would be in town, I was planning to be away at a hot springs retreat, healing from the wounds of back-to-back traumas and indulging myself with self care while receiving visits from both a girlfriend and a potential romantic partner.

“Can I come?” he asked.

It would be a long drive for him, and he didn’t have a car. The number of hurdles he would have to overcome in order to show up were immense. I felt afraid to indulge the anticipation I felt, frightened the little girl in me would have her hopes dashed yet again. Then I decided that this was silly. I could handle tending to the disappointed little girl should she need tending. I didn’t want to miss the elation I felt when I imagined that we might have a whole day together in hot springs. I hadn’t had more than an hour of private time with him since the day we hiked in the wildfires in Oregon two and a half years ago, the last time we kissed.

Right now, I am writing the story of Us because we just spent 8 whole hours together, and he just drove away. We spent all day lying in each other’s arms in total solitude in a natural hot pool in the middle of a valley while hawks flew overhead and coyotes howled from the surrounding mountains. We didn’t kiss or make love, but we did caress each other’s arms and legs and run our fingers through each other’s hair. We gazed into the eyes of Us, as if we were staring at two stars in the cosmos. The love pouring between us erupted like a waterfall, and the eros flowed like an unstoppable tsunami. We simply breathed through it without acting upon it.

“It’s all still here,” he said.

“Are you surprised?”

He said, “It’s as if all the days we’ve ever been together just collapsed and we haven’t spent a day apart. We didn’t miss a beat. Nothing has changed.”

I told him my experience was vastly different from that, that the relatively few days we spent happy together have been interrupted by vast swaths of painful unmet longing and disappointment and heartbreak, that all of those empty days when he wasn’t with me are as much a part of the story of Us as are the moments like this, when there is no separation. I told him that I cannot peel apart the bliss and the agony of loving him, that they go together- peas and carrots. I know what he meant that feeling of comfort that arises so easily in the presence of old friends when you pick right up where you left off without skipping a beat. But I felt every day without him as deeply as I experienced being with him.

The way he mused about how we’ve never been apart felt like a bypass to me, an easy dismissal of the suffering that has flowed like an undercurrent of intense pain, counterbalancing the eruptions of heart-opening love. What he doesn’t seem to realize is that the love and the pain both come from the place where Us lives in our hearts—that perhaps the open heart feels both equally—without a preference for bliss over agony, that it only hurts so much because I love so much. Perhaps it doesn’t hurt the same way for him, but I know it’s true for me.

I notice the part that wants to protect my heart, to guard against opening to him. But I am simultaneously moved to tears by how much I still love him, how all the heartache has only deepened my affection, how I see all the shadow in both of us, and it evokes tenderness and discernment, but not a lick of judgment. I feel grateful to have this opening to a real, mature love, a love beyond fantasy, a love beyond attaching to getting what I want, a love grounded in self love—one that won’t let me abandon myself in order to experience some temporary pleasure with him, a love built on a strong foundation of mutual appreciation and respect. It is a messy love, a ruthless love, stripped of all its glossy illusions and dressed up stories of happily ever after. It is a love that does not know what tomorrow holds, a love strong enough to handle not knowing without shutting down. It is a curious love, a love full of wonder and possibility, a love what questions, “What’s next?” with excitement and wonder and also a rush of fear.

Our day together is filled with ecstatic and ordinary moments. I cry with gratitude in the heart of the peak experiences, but I cry harder during the ordinary moments, the domestic moments, like when we’re cooking in the communal kitchen with me and washing the dishes I dirtied, or when he wakes up from his nap and rolls over and smirks at me. I miss him in the ordinary moments the most. I dare not let myself imagine what it would be like to have more of them.

Before we say goodbye at the end of the day, I remind him that I will still let him take the initiative, that I am going to stay in the experiment of trusting him to take the lead in Us. He holds me close and says, “When you trust me this way, you feel so feminine. It evokes in me this intense desire to take care of you.” The little girl in me feels held and safe and protected, while the cynic in me rolls her eyes and wonders if he’s read too many David Deida books. I feel tenderness for both of these parts in me.

He knows I need time for the energetic dismount when we part, so we lighten up the intensity a few hours before we say goodbye, laughing and engaging in small talk, pulling our bodies apart and starting to gently exit the bubble of Us. He never liked to do this before. He always wanted to stay all the way in the deep end until the last possible moment, when he had to say goodbye. Now he understands me better. He cares enough about the paradoxical strength and fragility of my heart that he doesn’t want me to experience the fallout that seems to accompany the abrupt rupture of our attachment. I feel him as a deep ally, helping me get my needs met without violating his own.

“I’m proud of Us,” I say as I’m hugging him goodbye.

“Me too.”

He gazes at me again, and the river of love flows through the rapids and then, as we peel apart, it slows down, calm and relaxed and gentle and full of love. This is my real life love story. I wonder what happens next. The long arc of love…what could happen thirty years from now? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.

And now, a man who might actually kiss me—a man I don’t yet love or know very well—is about to arrive at the same hot springs. He knows about this other man, this beloved heartner of mine, but he won’t fully understand the nature of this heart connection until he knows me better. I will tell him about this unexpected surprise visit from my heartner, but there are holy, sacred things I will keep close to my heart until they’re ready to be shared.

As I wait for this new man to arrive here at the hot springs, I am haunted by the mantra of lines from Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese poem.

I keep hearing this line from Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese poem like a mantra since my mother died.

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

What if I can just let the soft animal of my body love what it loves? What then?

I offer this love story to you in case it nourishes something in you that conventional love stories do not. Perhaps you will see my shadow—or his. Perhaps you will feel inclined to give me—or Us—advice. But I ask instead that you simply hold space for this vulnerable journey, to be with me and trust me and him and Us to navigate this journey in the ways we are guided to do so, to witness our love story with your own open heart, and to make of that love an offering to the Divine, that whatever is aligned with the highest good for us all may come to pass.

If this story resonates with you, let me invite you to explore the teleclass I co-led with many experts—Relationships On The Spiritual Path, which explores many of the inquiries that have arisen for me during this three-year inquiry of “What is love?” and “What is NOT love?”

I would really love it if you would share your true love stories here in the comments, if you feel called to do so. Every love story we share helps us craft a new, deeper story of love. May your love story transform us all.


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  1. Lily Jacobi

    Me too

    • Lulu

      So much drama, so much navel gazing. As a channeled spirit very wisely told me once “you humans have the ability to complicate a peanut butter sandwich” good advice.

      • Deirdre Ward

        Yes we humans do complicate life / emotions ..that’s part of being incarnate (well in the developed world, where our souls choose to incarnate)…and I think Lissa is so wonderful (not blowing smoke up her ass or gushing -I am from Belfast Northern Ireland and that’s NOT our style) because she is consciously working on her “stuff” and allowing her underbelly to been seen by putting it out there. She is an accomplished lady in many ways but she is allowing the rest of us to see her vulnerability and does so as an act of service in the hope that others may benefit. I say thank you for your human-ness and it helps to know even the accomplished smart peeps are working through their shit(…said affectionately) we are all in the same boat. To me this is a success story working towards true non-duality. I know Lissa said no advice but here’s a shout for the sisters not taking shit from the misters…divine feminine is all part of a bigger picture as our universe evolves. Good luck Lissa hope the new guy is ……….hehe.

        • Lissa_Rankin

          Thank you dear Irish sister…

          • Deirdre Ward

            A pleasure your books have helped me on my healing journey .. namaste.

          • Hally

            Got me musing on what is love. Different things for different people, I guess. After 35 years of shared house (with mortgage), income, two children (children no longer) and the trials and tribulations therewith, my story is prosaic. We’re not, never have been, and probably never will be soul mates – and yet, and yet …. I’m on a spiritual journey, something he totally doesn’t understand but he gives me all the space I need for that journey without question or judgement. I don’t understand his need to unwind in the pub with his mates on a Friday night, but it’s accepted, accomadated and, where necessary, prioritised. If I run out of oatmeal, he’ll race to the store at 7.00 in the morning before work, to ensure I can balance my blood sugar with the only food my stomach is able to take first thing. At the other end of the day I make sure there is always a space in the dishwasher for the next day’s lunchbox. When we veer off our parallel routes, we sit down and agree to draw a line under who is or isn’t in the wrong, and just try the be nicer to each other. And it usually works! A wise young writer here in the UK, Caitlin Moran, recently wrote a sort of open letter to her daughters, following a discussion with her friends about men. They had decided that, however strong, independent, wealthy and successful a woman might be, her life will only ever be as good as the man she is with. The 1970s feminist in me would like to reject this view – but I think she’s right. Her point – and the point she wanted to make to her daughters – is that high romance and life with a ‘bad boy’ is unsustainable. It’s knowing that the morning oatmeal will always be ready and waiting, come rain or shine, that matters. I make no judgement. Maybe part of me envies the passion and drama in some of these stories. But then again, my life had drama enough from my birth family. I would not have survived adulthood without the safe, reliable, consistent anchorage that is my marriage. For me, I guess, that is love.

          • Lissa_Rankin

            Dearest Hally, This story made me cry- in such a sweet way. You touched my heart deeply here. Thank you for sharing such a tender story about oatmeal and vulnerability and strength and loyalty. I am deeply moved. Really…

          • Hally

            And thank you dearest Lissa for the generosity of sharing, and showing us that we all have different things to learn about love while on this plane. I seem to find myself ‘looking for the positives’ a lot at the moment – and it all comes down to love in the end. Reassessing that my now dead Narcissist of a father, in his twisted and damaging way, did in fact give me what he could – his best attempt at love; trying to help a mother-in-law in her eighties discover that mourning the friends she has lost this year can run alongside celebrating those still here, the younger generations, who still love her in spite of the fact that she can be a bit of an old bat at times! I hope you, and all others who have suffered anguish in the grip of Eros love, as I never truly have, find peace – but also know that the strength you all have in bearing that – and the experience of being alive it gives you – is to be cherished.

        • Jody Lee Strong

          Beautifully put, Deirdre…”as an act of service…” YES. Appreciate Lissa’s generosity so much….I think for some it is so much easier to label, blame, point fingers than to open up to the VERY human-y experience of loving ourselves and loving others…it’s absolutely an evolution…of the heart, body, soul, mind…it’s never finished…

  2. Sarah Owens

    Thank you so freaking much for this. I feel like I was reading the story of my life as I read this post. This is totally my love story. And all the other love stories of people who had left “dysfunctional”relationships were killing me. The messages I was getting from them were “….if you just have enough courage to walk away and be alone, your whole life will open up to you.” And I just couldn’t. The love that was there was too real. My courage came in saying that I was unhappy with how the relationship had been. Since then, we have both taken time and space to heal and grow and become more solidified in our own selves. And we have come back together in something that is just as you described. So Real. And I am so grateful that you have written this, because for months I have been beating myself up for not having the courage to just walk away. And this story shows me that 1. I am not alone in what I am going through, 2. Real Love is Real and Messy and Beautiful and does not fit into a nice little “Love Story package” and 3. I am not a failure for not dropping the mic and walking away forever. That maybe by allowing Love to be and allowing myself to grow with it, I can get to deeper levels of existence than I ever thought possible. Phew. You Rock. Thank you.

  3. Denise Dayvault

    Me, too, It started when I’d been 14 years old for just three weeks. He was 17, took one look at me, and said he’d marry me some day. We continued until I was almost 21, when I said no to his marriage proposal. And then 27 years later, we crashed beautifully and tragically together again for a few years. We’re now deliberately not in touch. Can’t be. My heart will be broken until the day I die, and we do this again in another lifetime.

  4. Cheyenne Rochelle

    This resonated so completely to me, hot tears spilled down my face…I needed to know I’m not alone in a very similar journey. Thank you so much for sharing this!

  5. JA

    I know you don’t want feedback, so I will resist saying that he sounds like an asshat. I would also wonder about his sexuality, if it were any of my business. But of course I can relate to a story like that, who can’t?!? I hope you find a prince! Thanks for sharing!

  6. ruthenium66

    Why do we women create the most elaborate reframing to legitimize the fading attentions of narcissistic men? The drug of their intermittent reinforcement (which Skinner taught us was so much more powerful than if they were consistent) keeps us dangling in desire and drama. They suddenly crave us, soon after meeting. They turn their 10,000 watt gaze on us and then take it away. We’re hooked, they get spooked or bored, although they may make up a fresh narrative to make it sound as if it’s either some fate they, alas, have stumbled into…or else it’s our fault.

    • JA

      Well said! Intermittent reinforcement truly is a drug. And men who create weird psycho dramas… well, I don’t understand what drives them, but it definitely isn’t love. I think they want to receive attention from women, but they are missing the drive to care for and protect loved ones which (in my opinion) is the essence of healthy masculinity.

      • ruthenium66

        “but they are missing the drive to care for and protect loved ones” nails it.

        • JA

          Yeah, I think it is dangerous to spiritualize relationship pain. It is a primal signal that the other person is bleeding you out, not an indicator of romantic depth.

          So, I’m glad you said something (despite being told not to), cause what are you supposed to do if you see someone sleeping on the railroad tracks, just be a witness to their journey?

  7. Verna

    Wow Lissa! What a heart rending story! It caused me to almost not be able to breathe as I was reading it. Thirty-six years (half a lifetime, in my case) of loving another with the deepest connection at soul level and not having access to that ‘other’ is another profound life experience and sorrow. A month ago, I happened upon Angels Explain God and The New Spirituality by Cheryl Gar Barlow. I found hope in Chapter 10 – Love & Soul Growth. May you be well.

  8. Jana Frazier

    I.m sorry but I was completely confused. And exhausted by the story. It was wrenching and I didn’t understand what was going on. This sounds too painful to hold onto. Especially after the death of a parent.

    • Greta Larson

      I had the exact same reaction. I’ve been getting Lissa’s emails for years and always enjoyed but this post made me actually quite worried about her. It was confusing and bizarre and this guy sounds like a charismatic cult leader.

      • Lissa_Rankin

        I honestly don’t blame either of you for having this reaction. Honestly, if I was reading this on someone else’s blog, I’d probably have the same reaction. I have questioned myself so many times with exactly the words you express- so perhaps you’re right and I’m just rationalizing dysfunction and unconscious blind spots. Surely, I’ve done that before! All I can say is that my direct experience in this moment is that this messy experience feels more like love than any of the tidier versions of it I’ve felt before. In response to Jana, I’m not holding on. I’m letting go. But I’m doing so with a full, open heart, and that makes the whole journey feel worthwhile.

        Paradoxically, a week after I had this experience which I wrote about here, I had a first date with someone really lovely. I can’t help wondering if the final act of letting go with an open heart may have opened me to something even more nourishing. It’s too soon to tell, but it doesn’t feel like a coincidence…the timing of it all…

        • Kris

          I agree with what many are saying here Lissa. I admire your wisdom greatly. I also can relate to your strong heart wrenching when men I loved in the past were so “come and go.” I have finally found a man who has the courage and desire to “stay.” (without realizing it, having a partner who runs is convenient, although painful, for someone who also likes to run. It’s just that they run first and so we don’t have to examine our inclination to also run.) And I found MYSELF wanting to run. Through him I’m learning to “stay” and experience true love. I hope you find a true lasting “staying” kind of love. It’s out there.

  9. Tammy Guenther

    see the lessons and steer clear next time, cuz it will happen again and again until you pass the test. refuse to be enslaved sisters! listen to that small still voice that says ‘umm, i don’t think so…’

  10. Randi

    Lissa, it takes a tremendous amount of courage to let yourself be open to unconditional love and unconditional acceptance of another while allowing space for yourself and him to be who each of you are. Your blessings in life will continue to grow the more you allow yourself to love without boundaries. When you can allow another person their own free will, while not sacrificing your own, you come closer to your own true nature.
    I respect your journey and how you attend to your own personal growth. Please continue to follow your own guidance.

  11. Kelsey

    This touched a part of me I’ve been hiding from everyone, even myself at times. The last time I saw “him” or talked to “him” was in 2009 but a day hasn’t passed that I haven’t remembered Us–“wrong” as he and I are together. It’s like he.won’ Ever. Every day…..not an exaggeration. Sometimes I even talk outloud to him, similar to when a person speaks to a loved one who has gone to Heaven. I think it’s to try to heal the broken parts and pretend we ended well.

    I got married in 2010 and then forgot who I used to be…..I won’t be in this forever. Even I have a limit on how far I can remove myself from the Real me.

    I see “his” life on social media. He got married in 2015 to a French model, 15 years younger than himself, and gave her the life I always dreamed of, or had nightmares about, I’m not really sure anymore. It all looks so glamorous and pretty but i know only so much can Really be seen on a homepage. But when they went on that cruise that he promised for Us, I admit, I did sink a little. I know that sounds shallow, but the promises were not merely about a boat. So, I watch from the sidelines simultaneouly defeated, yet grateful I won’t have to suffer the pain of a breakup with him which will ultimately be her fate.

    Maybe someday I will find the inner love required that would allow me to truly and finally let go. I’m sure that is the root of this issue. I think I will start by giving myself a hug and then I will look in the mirror and say, “I love you.” <3

    • ruthenium66

      There’s another Mary Oliver poem asking what you will do with your ONE precious life…I celebrate your newfound love for yourself…for you are a universe, with unique gifts, and I hope you fall madly in love with that beautiful self and take her to all the places in the world she deserves to savor!!!

      • Kelsey

        Thank you! 🙂

  12. Janet Jacobsen

    Misery and drama are highly addictive. That awareness is what set me free from choosing unavailable men. Dopamine is triggered by things that excite us, such as food and sex…but also drama and pain, making us crave and recreate them over and over again.T hat explains why many people hang on to their misery, their sad stories, their anger and resentment. I spent a good part of my life stuck in the mire of misery about feeling alone in the world…until I had a life-changing epiphany 18 years ago during my first week of dating Tom, who would become my husband.

    We were massaging each other’s feet, (my very favorite thing!) and I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have this man in my life on a permanent basis.” Just then a Bonnie Rait song began playing on the radio and I was singing along with it, “I can’t make you love me if you don’t.” That song activated the neural pathways of my old familiar story that said, “I will always be alone. He won’t want me. I can’t have this.” I began slipping into the sweet melancholy of that story, pulled by the addictive lure of deep sorrow. But then, in a sudden splash of invigorating awareness, I stopped myself and thought, “Wait a minute – why can’t I have this? It’s just habit programming. I’m just as lovable as the next person. I can have this! I want this!”

    It was a moment of clear awareness that I wanted love in my life so much that I was willing to give up my addiction to my sweet sad miserable story. That determination has resulted in the best years of my life with this wonderful man.

    • Lissa_Rankin

      I LOVE this story! And it fits with what I just experienced with a new man. YUM.

      • Janet Jacobsen

        Thanks Lissa. I’m so glad you resonate with this and had this experience with a new man! Yes!

  13. Heather

    Thank you. ❤

  14. Cresta Schiefer

    As crazy as this may sound, from my experience, situations like this can be orchestrated by “the Gods” or “aliens”— whatever name for an outside manipulative force works for you. Tumultuous, charged, romantic and sexual drama are very entertaining for them. Like a drug and a telenovela for them to watch and participate in vicariously.

  15. Vie Davis

    The only way out is through they say. What a fierce and courageous tale of love exploration. I admire your ability to question all along the way and being suspicious to just write off and escape the experience with easy labels of “narcissism” or what not but instead embracing love as you found it and staring it head on with all it’s questions and light it shed. What a gift to connect and build further trust with that little girl inside. Just beginning a relationship with mine Thanks for sharing as it offers me freedom (and comraderie) to explore and be open further in my own journey.

  16. Sheri Price

    I hold this space for you, dear Lissa. Thank you for sharing this story, our story. The raw honesty and vulnerability shared in these words touches me so deep and I’m grateful to live in a time where we as women can share these kind of stories with each other and feel safe to do so. I have been living with such a painful circumstance in my life and after reading this for a moment I am able to look at it with different eyes. Please, please continue to share in this way.

  17. Kerry McGinley

    I’ve lived this, too. It has flayed my ego and made me question my sanity, my judgment and my identity like nothing else in my life. It’s like this love for him is a separate being with a life and destiny of its own. Every time I think I’ve finally found some kind of peace with it, a shelf to put it up on, I get a reminder that I’m not in charge here. It’s like an online dating app run by Kali that has a notification glitch. Surrendering this relationship is the single biggest challenge in my life, and admitting that makes me feel like a ridiculous soap opera character. I judge myself harshly for not being able to just turn this over. I judge myself harshly for not being more forgiving of him and myself. I judge myself harshly for judging myself harshly. I wonder if I’m just making all of this up and using it as an excuse to avoid relationships altogether, because that’s what I now do. I’ve never met anyone else who affects me the way he does, good and bad. I miss him terribly and never want to see him again. And when I’m around him, I’m home. I worked through that initial addiction/infatuation phase years ago, so this should’ve gone away. But I think about him every single day. His life goes on merrily without me with the company of another woman he claims to love, but he says he still wants to see me. Guess we’re both nuts. But I feel slightly less whackadoodle for knowing I’m not the only one. So thanks to Lissa and all the other lovely ladies who are also rocking this ridiculous boat that changes its name sporadically from “Pacific Princess” to “RMS Titanic.”

    • Lissa_Rankin

      Bhahahahahaaha!!! “It’s like an online dating app run by Kali that has a notification glitch.” I can’t love this enough. Speak it, sister.

  18. Lissa_Rankin

    Indeed…love really just isn’t enough. I’ve realized that love and compatibility are two different things. One does not negate the other. My beloved and I are not compatible, but doesn’t mean the love isn’t real…once i realized that, it made me feel less “whackadoodle” (to quote Kerry)

  19. Joan

    I too have had this relationship and am grateful for all that I have learned along the way. I stepped away a long time ago and yet part of me never really let go. And about every 6 months part of him checks to see if I am still around. We don’t see each other, I am way too strict with myself to allow that. I have been pretty harsh with myself and pretty harsh with him. I am finally able to with great love for both of us, slowly and clearly let go. I had to find the one in him that is broken and love that one without taking care of it. I had to find the broken little girl in me and really understand what I did not love about me and start to erase the childhood tapes of not enough, and if you love me with no drama it is not passionate enough. I am enough, he is enough, we are all enough and if we travel around not believing that we truly are enough no amount of pretending works. It is an inside job to love myself. Sit on the couch rub the little belly you don’t want to have, say kind things to it, smile at it, all parts are good, all parts are lovely. I had to find kindness and compassion to let go. I could know all the things I know about why I should let go, and still not quite do it. Only love could do it.


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