Love Is a Personal Practice

What I learned when I stopped seeking fulfillment from others and starting defining my own sense of love.

This piece is part of a month-long Wanderlust and YOGANONYMOUS series about self-love.

Can you remember your first yoga class? Were you constantly comparing yourself to others in the room, trying to figure out if you were doing it “right?” Eventually, we realize that there isn’t a “right” way to practice. We realize (I hope) that there are many ways to approach asana and that what we need may dramatically change depending on our circumstances and our current phase in life.

In my own practice, this is when it all got really good and interesting. When I gave myself permission to practice as an individual and make changes where I needed them, my yoga practice blossomed, as did the benefits I received. Yet, in so many other ways I was still comparing my life to the lives of others, hoping to see that I was doing it “right.” Most especially when it came to love.

Let’s start at the beginning. I grew up in Fairfield County, Connecticut, where I am currently living once again. This area is notorious for being the inspiration for the movie The Stepford Wives. In fact, the town that inspired the movie’s housewife archetype is only six miles down the road from me. The beautiful suburbs of Connecticut are a great place to explore traditional marriages and relationships. Married couples and families make up a vast portion of my student population, neighbors, and friends. I can tell you that some of these people are happy, inspiring, and living a life that feels authentic to them. I am not one of those people.

Growing up, I never thought to ask myself whether or not I wanted marriage and a family. I simply took for granted that this is what everyone wanted and needed to be happy in this world. I spent the first 29 years of my life seeking my partner, sometimes desperately. I have been “lucky” in love, I’ve always been able to find a relationship when I wanted one. I’ve dated many men, some for years and some for just a few weeks, and many were wonderful men who offer all you could ask for in terms of traditional marriage material. Except, none of them could ever make me happy.

I realized in that moment that the partner I’ve been seeking was actually always here. It was me.

In fact, historically, the times in my life that I remember as the darkest and most difficult were not the times that I was alone. Just the opposite, my periods of being single have been largely happy. Full of joy and friendship and, frankly, full to the brim with love. It has been those times where I have been dedicated to a relationship that have made me feel the most disconnected from myself.

I came to this realization after ending a long relationship in 2015 and decided that, for now, I was done seeking my partner. I realized in that moment that the partner I’ve been seeking was actually always here. It was me. In my independence, I take sweet care of myself. I accomplish my personal and professional goals. I grow, I laugh, I go out to dinner with girlfriends, I go out to dinner with dates, I take lovers and let them know where I stand and treat them well as I let these relationships run their course, I let go when these relationships shift from delight to obligation. I feel strong, beautiful, happy.

Of course, I recognize the malleable nature of what I want and need. At one point, I really needed to work on opening my hamstrings and folding forward to release the tension in my lower back. At one point, I had to stop deepening my forward bends in order to find the strength of my hamstrings and support a healthy balance in my body. Neither need was more important, neither was more beneficial. They were equally vital for me as I supported the evolution of my body and my being. At one point, building the foundation for a beautiful marriage (that never came to be) was of deep necessity for me as a human. I needed to explore traditional partnerships and find a sense of stability in my romantic life in order to realize how much I did not want this kind of love.

It has been incredibly liberating to explore many new kinds of relationships that make me feel loved and loving. Deep platonic friendships (what an amazing source of love!), open relationships, casual sex friendships… I’ve discovered that any relationship that makes you feel more alive is a loving and vital one. Some deep loves have lasted years in my life and some have lasted for under a month. For me, they have all helped me find my own sense of love and my own commitment to love as a path.

My wish is that I can continue to explore the evolution of my romantic life and its needs with the same fluidity with which I explore my asana.

Recently, I had “the talk” (or some variation of it) with a man I’ve been seeing. He’s truly incredible and has been a great match for me in this part of my life. When discussing whether or not he was my “boyfriend,” I felt absolutely no desire to say that he was. Not because I don’t plan to keep seeing him, not because I don’t value him as an amazing human. Simply because for me, at this moment, defining the relationship felt like a limitation of a limitless experience. I imagined becoming a “girlfriend” again; spending my day worrying about whether or not I was making someone else happy. Comparing calendars before I could make plans for my weekend. It just felt wrong. As I continue seeing him, who knows what will happen. Perhaps in time I’ll change my mind, perhaps in time it will all crumble down and I’ll walk away and he’ll walk away and I’ll ask myself the old familiar “what was I thinking?”

One thing that I do know is this: No matter where my life or any singular relationship takes me, there will be love. There will be love in copious and amazing amounts, in many different forms and from different sources. My wish is that I can continue to explore the evolution of my romantic life and its needs with the same fluidity with which I explore my asana.

I am not sharing my own story as a way to devalue classically defined partnerships. If you are happy in a marriage, I am so, so happy for you. I am speaking to anyone who, like me, has found themselves deeply unhappy for no apparent reason while lying in bed with their partner. To anyone who has sacrificed so many tiny pieces of who they are in order to fit into the idyllic archetype of a good husband or wife.

What if there was another way? What if you could walk away from the image of love someone else gave to you when you were small and discover the unimaginable joy of your own love practice? Are you ready to examine your relationship to relationships?

My wish for all of us is this: Let’s all take responsibility for our own sense of love. Whether it comes to us in a conventional or an unconventional form, let us trust that what feels like love is love. Let us trust that whatever makes us feel small, unworthy, or unhappy is simply not love. Let’s celebrate any and every experience of deep, heart-bursting love that comes to us. May we give ourselves permission to choose a love that supports the evolution of our souls and desires. May we all grow wiser and happier through the fluid exploration of relationship, and may we let go of any archetype that limits us and our growth. May we all be rich in love in whatever form it finds us.

elizabeth-crisciElizabeth Crisci is a yoga teacher and artist in Fairfield County, Connecticut. She is the creator of Love by E, handmade gemstone mala and jewelry. She teaches in workshops, special events, and trainings in the Northeast in addition to a range of regular, weekly classes. She teaches smart and accessible yoga designed to make you feel good. She loves every minute of her work. You can find her writing and her teaching schedule on her website.