I spent two weeks at Plum village, a Buddhist monastery in France. I came to recover from burn out, and what I found was not only wisdom and practice around how to be present with life, but also wisdom on love. While the nuns must abstain from any kind of romantic or sexual activities, they shared heartfelt and grounded advice about dating and romantic relationships. The fact that they must face their desire for romantic love by looking into it deeply, and by cultivating love for the community, they are well equipped to answer any break-ups, marriages and dating questions.
1. The surprising effect of asking why.
When you feel attracted to someone, and before taking it to the next level, stop and ask yourself why. It is easy to attribute it to magic, intuition or chance. But when you actually ask yourself why, it gives you clarity and honesty. According to one of the senior nuns, more often than not when she is attracted to someone she realizes she is actually attracted to a quality they have, that she wishes she had in her. So instead of clinging to the idea of being with that person, she cultivates the quality in her. When I applied the advice to myself, I realized that for the relationships that did not last, my attraction was an expression of my loneliness.
2. The importance of slowing down.
Instead of jumping too quickly, be mindful in every encounter, conversation you have with the person you like. Getting to know someone deeply, cultivates understanding and acceptance, which are basis for true love. It also shows care and respect for them. True love, in the nun’s definition, is the one that lasts even when the passion fades. It is independent from sexual attraction.
3. Manage your anger, not the relationship.
During the retreat, we learned that it’s not about escaping your feelings. It is about being with them and getting to know them. One of the main feelings we have as human being is anger. Instead of lashing it out on your partner, or hiding it from them, when you feel it be sure to be honest that you feel anger, and excuse yourself or even ask for time off. Go for a walk, a run, and take as much time as you need.
What the teaching recommends is to tell your partner, that you are angry and suffering and need time to calm down. In this way, you are owning your feeling, and not trying to fix the other person’s feeling. Instead you are creating clarity so you can go back to love and resolve the situation.
4. You do not need to be in a relationship to love.
The way to truly love starts with truly loving ourselves, our parents and our community. According to the nuns, there is no difference between this kind of love and what we call long lasting romantic love. Whenever you are practicing loving yourself, you are becoming a better partner or a better partner to be. You don’t need to jump into a relationship or another to experience and practice love. You can start by simply looking in the mirror.
5. Don’t feed your craving for romance.
The nuns don’t listen to love songs, watch romantic comedies and gossip. In their own words, these are sources that feed the craving for intensity, and the type of romance that leave us heart broken or in unhappy relationships. We underestimate the power of what we passively consume, and how it effects our perceptions and desires.
When little girls watch movies about Prince Charming, they very likely will look for him when they grow older, and the truth is there is no Prince Charming out there, there exists human beings, and as a woman you don’t need saving. I found it particularly interesting that as an adult I often get my craving for romance awakened after indulging myself with Facebook marriages.