“I just want to fall in love,” he said. “Nothing beats holiday romance.”
Charlie blasted ‘Baby it’s cold outside’ from his new Amazon Echo while sipping mulled wine. “I just hope love happens to me so I can Fa la la la with someone.”
It was November 24th and Charlie was already playing Christmas love ballads. In another week he’d put on Love Actually, secretly hoping a Midwestern model would randomly appear at his house to save him from loneliness.
Is love something that happens to us? Or is it something that happens within us?
Unlike Charlie, I didn’t have a problem falling IN love. My friends said that my heart was all over the streets of the city, its heartbreak blood running down into the gutters. You see, I had a problem KEEPING love.
San Francisco, a city smitten with the latest tech trends, has developed ADHD. People fall madly in love only to drop each other like gluten when someone seemingly better appears. Everyone wants ‘love on demand’ but just like Uber, doesn’t want to do any of the driving. As soon as things become hard, men and women dump their lover and frequent holiday parties solo, sniffing around for fresh romance under the mistletoe. This season a short term fling is as en vogue as a holiday sweater.
The Greeks, who had six words for love, would refer to the fleeting type of love as Eros-an erratic passion that possesses you until it burns out. Some would argue that this isn’t ‘real’ love but a dopamine addiction.
This season, I didn’t want to become someone’s holiday sweater. I left Charlie to his Fa la la la las. It was time to get outside the city uncover new ways and words for love. While everyone made lavish turkey dinners and celebrated Black Friday shopping, I spent five days at a yoga ashram, getting comfortable with minimality.
“Don’t seek external things. Love and happiness comes from the inside” goes the yogi cliché. They were referring to Philautia, the Greek word for self love.
I was still looking outside. For the past three years I had been seeking a person, a dollar figure, a Facebook like or a good glass of pinot to either validate or save me.
At the ashram I cleansed myself of these attachments. I was forced to sit with myself, stone sober, for hours at a time.
At first it was hard. My hips were sore from cross legged sitting. The women on my right chanted off key. The man on my left snored during Savasana. I was cold. I was lonely. I was suffering from caffeine withdrawal. I kept wondering if the hot yogi across the room fancied me. My mind was a pinball machine, each thought a little white ball ricocheting around, begging for attention.
Through hours of sitting, meditating and chanting my mind changed. First, my pinball thoughts slowed down. I forgave everyone’s imperfections along with my own. My mind cleared and my heart opened. I felt a warm orange glow from my heart. Was this love?
“It’s difficult to measure emotions without a foundation breath,” said one yogi master.
I breathed and watched my emotions come out in puffy clouds. Some looked like dinosaurs. But others resembled baby birds, ready to take flight.
Still fixated on Eros, I wanted to harness my fledgling emotions and rush back to San Francisco to solve my romantic life. I was restrained.
“Don’t react. Respond with awareness. Make sure your actions come from your spirit NOT from your past memories or future longing,” said another yogi master.
Right. The pinballs representing my past slowed and I stopped wanting things that had already gone. The pinballs representing my future quieted and I stopped coveting figments of my imagination, like bringing the hot yogi to a holiday party. I started to think about the present. Myself. On this mat. It wasn’t so bad. Maybe I wasn’t so bad.
“Everything is already within you,” said a third Yogi master. That warm orange glow intensified and I smiled.
I realized that we use Eros as a quick dopamine fix when we are not whole ourselves. The old Jerry Maguire quote “You complete me,” had led us all astray. We cannot put our completeness on another person, even if it’s a yogi. That’s an unfair burden that dooms us for failure and another holiday sweater. Plus it prevents us from cultivating all the other types of love out there. (Remember the Greeks at SIX types).
Only when we are complete ourselves we are ready for a long lasting partnership (Pragma-long standing love). But even if we aren’t in a relationship, it doesn’t matter. We are enough as we are. Philautia-Self love.
Until we’ve made peace within, a holiday fling cannot save Charlie or me or you. Its happiness will be as fleeting as the plate of Christmas cookies your neighbor brings you. Either you will be using someone else as a dopamine rush or they will be using you.
Once we find peace, we can share our love with others. This would be what the Greeks refers to as Agape or love for everyone. We can give to our parents, our friends, our children, our work, our community. We can still fall madly in love, it will just be with a different word and in a different way.
Perhaps my excess emotions didn’t need to end up in the gutter after all. I decided to bake Charlie a plate of gingerbread men. If he couldn’t get dopamine, he could at least get a good sugar rush. Philia– deep friendship love.
**This post originally appeared in Medium’s Mission here.