Before I met him, I didn’t know.
For all the time I’d spent kissing frogs (not literally, you guys), retracing every misstep in my life to figure out how I’d become the kind of person who just went on a date with an adult who spells “you’re” like “your,” and wondering with whom my next something-significant-enough-to-call-a-relationship would be, I had no idea it’d happen in this exact place, at this exact time, with this exact man.
“Need help setting up that tent?”
He appeared just as my crew and I pulled up to our campsite, eager to set up our home-for-a-weekend before the sun slipped down beneath the desert horizon.
There he was in front of me, tall and blonde and witty, standing strong like a living statue of David in the middle of the dust covered playa. Ok, so maybe he wasn’t naked. Or carrying a sling over his shoulder in preparation to pelt a huge giant. Oh, and his hair wasn’t curly, either — it was straight and windblown and —
Whatever, the point is that I couldn’t say no, you guys. Aside from the obvious, there was something intangible about him that drew me in from the very beginning, something that was as hard to resist as it is now to explain.
We finished setting up camp just as the sky faded to dark and tiny pinholes of light began to freckle the vast desert sky. A gentle dust storm swirled and swept its way along the horizon, hinting at a romance that was yet to come — incredibly light and free, dancing whichever way the wind took it, yet all the while grounded in the earth beneath it.
Funny thing is, we’d matched months earlier on a dating app, but never ended up actually getting together. It seems the universe was hell-bent on making sure that one way or another, our paths crossed.
Here, among a cluster of 150 friends-of-friends in Southeast Oregon’s Alvord Desert, it must’ve been time.
“Cook you a burger?” he offered.
“I’d love to, but I have a few things I have to do right now to finish settling in. See you around?”
And he did, of course — see me around, in case you were wondering. After all, it was just the beginning.
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Over the next six months, we had a ridiculous amount of fun together.
We hotspringed and naked bikerided and mini-golfed and river rafted.
Yes, I said naked bikerided. Nope, that’s not a real word, but do I look like I care?
We laughed our heads off at things that no one else would understand, like hanging out a local laundry lounge just for the fun of it. So maybe we didn’t have any laundry to do, but somehow it was entertainment enough just to hang out and consume adult beverages while making jokes about ridiculous laundromat pickup lines we came up with like, “How’s your spin cycle?” and “Are you doing delicates today?” (Yes, we’re totally mature.)
At first, I was sure that what we had was “just a desert thing.”
After that, I was convinced it was “just a summer thing.”
Finally, I admitted that I had no idea what the heck it was, and that maybe I didn’t actually need to.
What a liberating thought: Maybe, just maybe, I could allow the relationship to be… whatever it wanted to be. Like a river flowing calmly to the sea… or plunging suddenly down a glorious cliff before splashing wildly on the rocks below… or, well, drying out altogether… its ultimate route was unknown.
Isn’t that how every relationship (heck, every single moment of our life) is? Completely unguaranteed and uncertain?
So why not just let it be as it is?
Why not let it evolve organically, without needing to control it or label it or force it toward any particular endpoint? As long as it continues to serve my highest needs in the moment, why not just trust its path? Why not just let it flow?
Resting deep in detachment to outcome, I could fully appreciate him and the relationship for all that it was in the moment.
Paradoxically, with no guarantees and no expectations other than those we’d explicitly set between us, I don’t think I’d ever felt a deeper sense of security. I used to think uncertainty and security were polar opposites: In embracing one, you necessarily forfeited the other.
Now, I know that on the deepest level, they are one and the same.
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“He’s not, like, my complete soulmate or anything,” I remember telling one of my friends soon after we’d met.
“But… our relationship just feels so right in this moment. I almost feel like he’s in my life right now for me to learn something — to learn a new way of being in relationship. And it’ll last as long as it needs to for us both to learn and grow in the ways we each need.”
Sometimes, I believe, that’s how relationships come to us: As pathways to experiencing ourselves and others in newer and deeper ways.
The thing is, with him I felt — for perhaps the first time — truly safe in relationship.
Safe enough to allow space, to leave distance, to let go, without falling into the clinginess and panic that had enveloped me in relationships past. Safe enough to let him do his thing without feeling an incessant need to reel him back in. Safe enough to do my thing without becoming preoccupied with and swallowed up by the relationship.
And just as I felt safe enough to allow distance, I equally felt safe enough to let him in closer — to ask for what I needed, to show my emotion, to trust that he’d respond.
Inside this container of steadiness and honesty and responsiveness, I discovered for the first time how it felt to maintain a sense of connection and a sense of self, something that had entirely eluded me in past relationships. I began to feel a strange sense of love and appreciation bubbling up inside me — one so expansive and free that it was as easy for me to let go as it was for me to lean in.
It felt like pure freedom.
With him, things just flowed. They were easy. They just felt right, as if for this period of time, on this place on earth, these two people were meant to be dancing this dance, coming together and then — when the time was right — coming back apart.
A week and a half ago, I didn’t know.
For all the time we’d spent together, all the adventures (& couches) we’d shared, and all the clothes laundering we’d witnessed, I couldn’t have known how it would end. When it would end.
I didn’t know that on this day, he’d come over and sit down next to me like he had so many times before, but this time with something different to say: That what we’d had was so special and magical and amazing, but it was time. Time to come apart. Time for him to make space for himself and to focus on taking his life in a more intentional direction. I couldn’t have known that day that he and his Movember mustache would walk out through my door for the very last time.
But that’s life, isn’t it? In every moment, we just don’t know. Like the intro to MTV’s Diary that I watched entirely too many times from the bunk bed of my college dorm room, “You think you know, but you have no idea.”
You. Have. No. Idea.
You know what else I didn’t know?
I didn’t know it’d be just as easy for me to stay present with this sense of sadness and loss and mourning as it had been to stay present with the relationship — or that I’d cry just as many tears of gratitude and appreciation as I’d cry tears of sadness.
I had no idea how easy it’d be for me to feel all these feelings so fully, and then to let them
when the moment had passed,
like waves receding back into the sea.
I didn’t know that heartbreak, too, can be beautiful.
Today, I wake up and I boil water for my tea.
Back again to not knowing, the only constant in the lives of all 7.5 billion people on the planet.
I don’t know who the next person will be — where we’ll meet or who he’ll be or when or how it’ll happen — just like I didn’t know this time or the time before or the time before.
It could be in fifteen minutes or fifteen years, in my neighborhood or across the world. I don’t know how it will begin or how it will end. I just don’t know.
But what I do know is that perhaps for the first time in my life, this uncertainty feels more liberating than anything else — more like a source of great wonder than of great anxiety. My life today feels like a fantastic storybook filled with tales of love and heartbreak, of coming together and coming apart, of knowing another and knowing myself.
This joy and this pain, this constant not knowing what’s next — this, more than anything, is life.
And even with him gone, I still feel safe. Safe enough to open. To feel. To trust. Safe enough to delight in the slow unfolding that is my life.
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In 2015, Jenny Blake wrote a blog post called “Life Origami: Can You Delight in the Slow Unfolding?”
In it, she wrote:
“Imagine that the map of this next thing you are aiming toward—a job, a business, a relationship, or another adventure altogether—has a secret legend written on the inside of an intricately folded square of origami paper:
- Can you enjoy the discovery process?
- Can you follow the clues as they reveal themselves corner-by-corner?
- When you feel bored, impatient and frustrated, can you sit with your suffering and love the part of you that has such passion and desire for something?
I’m asking you not just to tolerate the at-times-painfully-slow unfolding, not just accept it, not just resign to it, but delight in it. Savor it. Appreciate it.”
Delight in it.
Ahhhhh you guys, I love this idea of “life origami” — of letting your life unfold piece by piece, step by step, moment by moment, and doing so not with fear or anxiety but with a sense of wonder and curiosity and delight.
“Who will he be? Where will we meet? What will he be like?” I sometimes find myself wondering about Mr. Next Guy.
I’m excited to find out — but not so excited that I’ve forgotten to enjoy what is
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Now back to you, dear friend:
What if the process of unfolding — even with every disappointment, every longing, and every temporary setback — could feel more like an exquisite gift than a burden?
What if you could replace your fear of an uncertain future with faith in an uncertain future?
Can you delight in the mystery, in the slow unfolding of your one-of-a-kind, never-been-lived-before story?
Can you fully embrace each chapter, fully tasting the thrilling highs and the gut-wrenching lows and every piece of the in between?
Go now: Unwrap the gift that is your life.
Never stop unwrapping.
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[Image by Bhumika Bhatia]