LES­SONS FROM LOVE SCHOOL

One writer books her­self into a class to nav­i­gate re­la­tion­ships

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If there’s one thing that drives me mad it’s this per­sis­tent nar­ra­tive that says you can only be com­plete by be­ing at­tached to an­other hu­man. It’s not enough to be happy, healthy and free – true hap­pi­ness can only come from walk­ing off into the sun­set with an­other per­son and, ide­ally, giv­ing birth to their chil­dren. Then, and only then, when you look into a child’s eyes do you know what real love is. All of life be­fore that mo­ment was just a dress re­hearsal. This is a prob­lem for me be­cause as much as I love chil­dren, I’ve never felt a need to have my own, and I’m deeply con­flicted about find­ing The One. My life is al­ready full of love in the form of friends and fam­ily, who I adore and en­dure in equal mea­sure, just as they do me, and I get huge ful­fil­ment from my work, trav­els and free­dom. Why do I need a man on top of all that?

And yet I worry that I’m protest­ing too much and that I only feel this way be­cause I’ve never ex­pe­ri­enced love, and there­fore don’t know what I’m miss­ing. I also worry that liv­ing on my own and think­ing mostly about my­self is go­ing to make me self­ish and self-in­volved.

And so it is with mixed feel­ings that I start a 30-day on­line course called Get Ready For Love, which prom­ises to ‘rev­o­lu­tionise’ my love life. The very idea makes me cringe, but I’ve heard noth­ing but good things about the women be­hind it, life coach Selina Barker and dat­ing coach Vicki Pavitt, who run Project Love, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that helps women cre­ate lives, ca­reers and re­la­tion­ships they love through one-to-one coach­ing and on­line cour­ses.

Project Love was cre­ated af­ter Selina over­came her own re­la­tion­ship prob­lems. For years she was meet­ing men but not the right ones. The course is a re­flec­tion of what she did, with Vicki’s help, to change that sit­u­a­tion. They prom­ise there is no talk of rules to fol­low to Get The Guy. In­stead there are ex­er­cises that help you un­der­stand what’s hold­ing you back from hav­ing more love in your life, then tips on what to do about that. What could I lose?

I log on to the site to find that each day will bring a dif­fer­ent les­son – com­pris­ing au­dio from Vicki and Selina along with a work­book to fill out. There is also a pri­vate Face­book group where you can share your thoughts with other women do­ing the course.

Les­son One starts by ask­ing how you would like to feel about ‘love, life and YOU’. I write a shop­ping list: alive, vi­brant, sexy, en­er­getic, pow­er­ful, open, strong, hon­est, in­spired and con­fi­dent. The next ques­tion asks when you last felt that way – for me, it was dur­ing a trip to the west coast of Amer­ica a few years ago. I al­ways feel more alive when I’m trav­el­ling. They sug­gest find­ing a photo that en­cap­su­lates this feel­ing, but I’m ter­ri­ble at stor­ing pic­tures and can’t find one.

Les­son Two asks me to write the his­tory of my love life, which is a bit de­press­ing. I sit in a cof­fee shop and write about my 20s when I thought I was too fat, ugly and gin­ger for men to like me, but then ran a mile from the few who did show in­ter­est. The truth was that re­la­tion­ships ter­ri­fied me and, deep down, I did not think I was good enough to be loved.

In re­cent years, with the help of ther­apy, these feel­ings of be­ing unlov­able have less­ened and I’ve since met some lovely men and had great sex. How­ever, now I’m 40, the men I meet want to set­tle down but I never do. I’ve al­ways kept one foot out, ready for my es­cape. I don’t know if that’s be­cause I haven’t met the right man yet, or whether I have but I’ve been too quick to dis­miss him.

The next tasks are a mix­ture of af­fir­ma­tions to re­peat – ‘I am ready to do what­ever it takes to clear the blocks that have been keep­ing me from find­ing love’ – and ex­er­cises aimed at get­ting me in­spired about my love life, in­clud­ing creat­ing a vi­sion board where you cut out pic­tures to rep­re­sent what your life will look like when it’s full of love. I get a pile of mag­a­zines and cut out pic­tures of flow­ers, art, green silk un­der­wear and sunny skies. It makes me feel up­lifted and in­spired… it was only af­ter I’d spent two hours stick­ing pic­tures on to my A2 sheet of pa­per that I re­alise some­thing is miss­ing – there is no man on it.

I am also asked to think of cou­ples I know and ad­mire. My mind is com­pletely blank. Even though I like the part­ners my friends have cho­sen, I wouldn’t want to be in any of their re­la­tion­ships. In fact, the very thought of it makes me feel trapped. I re­alise that this is how I feel about all re­la­tion­ships when we’re in­vited, on day five, to list the be­liefs we have about love. I write: ‘I think that re­la­tion­ships are a prison and the end of “me”. Love is not real; it is a fan­tasy; it won’t last.’ I keep go­ing: ‘Men don’t like women like me. Men can­not be trusted. It will all end in tears.’

I am shocked by now neg­a­tive my views are – of course I was never go­ing to find love with those be­liefs.

For Les­son Six, my task was to re­fute each of these crazy state­ments, so I write about the fact that many men have liked me and loved my hair and my body. I write about the male friends in my life who have been noth­ing but kind and trust­wor­thy. Then I write: ‘I can be in a re­la­tion­ship and keep my free­dom and still be “me”.’

The next ques­tion is: ‘How would it feel to be in that re­la­tion­ship?’ And then, sit­ting at my kitchen ta­ble, I am over­come with fear and sad­ness. I don’t want to even al­low my­self to think about what a good, lov­ing re­la­tion­ship would be like be­cause I don’t be­lieve it can hap­pen for me.

‘I AM SHOCKED BY HOW NEG­A­TIVE MY VIEWS ARE’

In a one-to-one ses­sion, near the end of my 30-day course, Vicki ex­plains this is a com­mon feel­ing. ‘Peo­ple come with dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions and com­plaints but, usu­ally, un­der­neath it all is a feel­ing that they are not good enough to de­serve love.’

Les­sons 12-14 are all about self-love for this rea­son. One sug­gests ‘woo­ing your­self’ by go­ing out for nice meals and buy­ing flow­ers, but I ex­plain to Vicki that I do all that al­ready. Plus, for the first time ever, I do quite like my body. So what’s go­ing on? What’s hold­ing me back?

‘How scared are you of a re­la­tion­ship out of 10?’ asks Vicki. ‘Ten,’ I find my­self an­swer­ing. Oh. I say that

I have not been hurt for years and keep all men at a dis­tance so I’m never in a sit­u­a­tion where that can hap­pen again. Vicki tells me that it’s okay to be scared, but that you can still be open to love any­way.

‘Does ev­ery­one have to end up with some­one? Could it just be that I’m not meant for that?’ I ask Vicki.

‘Maybe you are hap­pier on your own, but you need to make sure that you make that choice out of full-heart­ed­ness, not out of fear and de­fen­sive­ness. So why not pri­ori­tise your love life now, go all in and see what hap­pens?’ she says.

I ask her if she be­lieves you ‘just know’ when you find the right per­son. ‘I worked with one woman who re­alised that a man she’d known for seven years was the one for her – but she’d never seen it,’ Vicki ex­plains. ‘We are of­ten the worst judge of who is right for us.’

Les­son 15 in­volves pin­point­ing the qual­i­ties we want in a man, only to be told to cross out any­thing to do with looks, work, style and lo­ca­tion. The qual­i­ties we should look for are the deeper ones, such as kind­ness, in­tel­li­gence and loy­alty.

This makes so much sense – as does ev­ery­thing on this course, which ad­dresses deeper fears of vul­ner­a­bil­ity, in­ti­macy and re­jec­tion, along with giv­ing more prac­ti­cal ad­vice on how to meet the right men.

Les­sons 20-30 are about get­ting out there, deal­ing with first-date nerves and dat­ing on­line in a lov­ing way. The ad­vice is down to earth, em­pa­thetic but never pa­tro­n­is­ing, and the en­cour­age­ment of other smart, funny women post­ing in the Face­book group helped to make me feel less like a weirdo for be­ing stuck when it comes to love. It seems a lot of us strug­gle with this stuff, and I would rec­om­mend this course to any­one who can’t un­der­stand why they are al­ways sin­gle or trapped in bad re­la­tion­ship pat­terns.

On the Tube home from our ap­point­ment, I think about a man al­ready in my life who has the qual­i­ties

I’m look­ing for – namely kind­ness, in­tel­li­gence and hu­mour. Is he the one and I just haven’t al­lowed him in?

But as the Sufi poet Rumi wrote: ‘Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the bar­ri­ers within your­self that you have built against it.’

In my case, that takes longer than 30 days.

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