Cultivating a spiritual life can radically change how you view the world and can shift your values away from a more material, egocentric focus to a more altruistic one. But in terms of navigating intimate relationships, it has little to do with overcoming the day to day relational difficulties that arise in interpersonal relationships. While the search for human passionate love and the practice of leading a spiritual life are not mutually exclusive, we can get into trouble when we conflate the two.
There are many love experts and spiritual gurus that promise hope for the chronically single. Yet as well meaning and intelligent as they are, there is a component of magical thinking in the promise of spiritual bypass. The premise goes like this: if you can align yourself with the universe, you will release all the emotional baggage and barriers to love you’ve been carrying around for years and still haven’t let go of --- despite all the personal therapy you’ve done-- and a soulmate will materialize. The Law of Attraction says so. Dee Pak Chopra says so. Oprah says so. It must be so, right?
As a psychotherapist who focuses primarily on healing attachment wounds around love, helping couples through conflict and rehabilitating intimacy, I can tell you that while this sounds like a compelling strategy on one level— it can also be a set up for deep disappointment.
What happens when the soul mate never shows up or you enter into a relationship with such high expectations that there is nowhere to go but downhill?
So many women come into my office in despair after desperately trying to follow what I call spiritual bypass protocols with no success. In fact, if they have perfectionistic tendencies to begin with, they can dive into a tailspin of obsessive self examination, insecurity and bitterness-- based on the premise that because the spiritual protocol hasn’t worked, there must be something fundamentally wrong with them.
Whether it’s the pain of infatuation or unrequited love, or the loneliness of dating and not finding love, all of it puts us at odds with our intrinsic wholeness and worthiness as human beings, who are designed to connect and relate.
No doubt, there is something elusive and mysterious about attracting romantic love. True love is considered to be a peak experience in our culture, and it is constantly reinforced by the media we consume. Romantic love has been elevated to the point where we’re living out the natural frustrations of placing impossible expectations on it. And while we all know that on some level, the fantasy of a singular soulmate persists. The problem is that it can not only obscure the potential love and companionship available to us in the present moment, it can also obscure the real work of navigating intimacy and all the vulnerabilities and insecurities that come with it.
I”m not suggesting that you settle for a Homer Simpson. But there’s an implicit expectation that if we don’t have this immediate numinous “love” connection that results in long term partnership, somehow it’s a personal failure on our part and we can feel that our lives are missing something because of it. Love is so complex and the attachment wounding that may invite or repel certain kinds of relationships can’t be reduced to a one-size fits all prescription for overcoming single-dom. What creates that spark, that energy, the connection that develops into love is still a mystery.
You do not have to reach some sort of personal perfection, spiritual alignment or higher level of individuation in order to attract a partner. How could it be this is the only path for the enlightened while the unconscious masses often partner without doing any inner work at all? Is there some sort of exceptionalism that conscious, college educated, professional women secretly harbor---that we are entitled to a higher, deeper love? Perhaps there is.
We all have the capacity and potential for every kind of expression of love, yet romantic love can be an exception. While we all deserve fulfilling companionship, there is no guarantee that we are going to receive it or experience it in the particular way we are looking for.
Finding romantic love is not necessarily within your control. And that feels like a hard pill to swallow because so many other aspects about our destiny seem like they are within our control. Whatever barrier to love you struggle with, the best starting place is to accept yourself and the present moment with the utmost gentleness, compassion and loving kindness, and let go of the notion that you need anyone or any particular experience to make you whole or complete. This is the first, most difficult step. How do we hold on hold onto the intention of finding a beloved companion, with mindful awareness and self compassion?
And how do we still wade through a superficial dating world and enter into relationships with no guarantees that it will work out? Sometimes the first relationship that comes along from a spiritual bypass is anything but ideal and can end in real disappointment. Whether it’s discovering that your partner is addicted to porn, or has money issues he can’t take responsibility for— doesn’t necessarily mean the partnership is bad or destined for failure. It’s precisely these moments, where we need to learn to calibrate our expectations. Love becomes a mirror and a crucible for growth, not the panacea of security cloaked in a romantic fantasy a lot of us secretly yearn for.
So as you travel the road of spiritual growth, compassionately remind yourself that finding love is not necessarily an attainment or culmination of that process. Doing your inner work often results in powerful external transformations, that include intimate relationships. And while dynamic romantic relationships are part of our human experience, no spiritual perfection is required. Period.