What do you do when your heart says “yes” to someone who’s determined to break it? Auntie Suvanna’s wisdom and compassion manifest in advising a woman who’s looking for love in the wrong place.
I have been practicing Buddhism for several years. However, I keep getting caught in the Shempa with this particular man. I am 60 years old and divorced for 8 years. I met this man 3 years ago when I started dancing. He was attentive and pursued me for a short time (I won’t go into details) and then dumped me in pursuit of a 31 year old (30 years his junior) who had emotional problems and confided in him. He told me at first that she was only a friend who saw him as a father figure, but I later found out that they had a sexual encounter. I did not speak to him for about a year but did see him all the time at the dances. But, it goes on.
Because we both love dancing and there is no other place to go, we see each other almost every week. After some time, and given the fact that the girl has moved to California, my rapport with him has been better. Recently, I have seen him a few times under the guise of him wanting to “practice” dance. This has led to a few for lack of better words (since he is now 65) sexual encounters, after which he is very pleasant and then goes his merry way. He calls me his “friend” and best dancing partner he has ever had, and then of course, goes on to take another woman to the dance the next week. I have not been with anyone else, although there have been a few opportunities.
I am ashamed that I can’t keep away from him and always seem pleasant and friendly towards him. I know it has to do with not feeling loved by my father and there are thoughts in my head that if I just am…pretty enough, good enough…then…all of this I know intellectually…I have sent myself Loving Kindness, but, still I am left with this shame that I can let myself be treated so poorly. Because he edges himself into my life as my friend…and because I feel I have no rights since he makes no commitment and I go along with it, I am trapped by my feelings. He is now pursuing someone else at the dance and I see the same MO taking place. I feel that he really wants her and a relationship with her. This of course only makes me feel like chopped liver. I do not want to give up dancing, but seeing them together breaks my heart. I need practices to help me with this. Please!
Seeking love in the wrong place
Dear Seeking Love:
Several years ago Auntie had the idea to write a humorous Buddhist advice column. Since then, the sad relationship questions have been pouring in…well, trickling. So, again, duty calls, and humor will have to wait!
Anyway thanks for all the detail – that is helpful.
Unfortunately the answer for anything that we want to run away from seems to always be to go more into it. There are several angles we could choose. One is how the man feels about other women. Another is how he feels about you. Another is how you feel about him. And finally, how you feel about yourself. Maybe you can guess which one Auntie is going to pursue.
You described how you feel about yourself in terms of shame, I have no rights, I am not pretty enough, and I am chopped liver. What is shameful about loving someone or being fond of someone who does not give you what you want? We are addicted and we chase after sources of suffering. This is being human. There is the idea in Buddhism that the cup is already broken. This applies to the heart as well. Your father maybe helped break it. It was maybe half broken when you were born. Other people probably chipped in. Seeing this and being creative with this is our work. Some level of satisfaction may be achieved when we can lean this far into craving and despair.
You know yourself pretty well and perhaps already know this. This man is not the cause but the occasion of your pain. Yes, many men your age like younger women. And many women much younger than you like older men. But beyond all that, beyond all conceptions of who is a victim and who is not, and who has the power and who does not – seeing for a moment through the veil of craving – it looks like this man is helping you see the vulnerability and tenderness of your own heart. And you don’t want to see that, and none of us do, and yet it is part of our life.
To the degree that you’re acting like you’re ok with the situation, you are participating in it, you are helping create it. Perhaps he doesn’t want what you want. He thinks of you as an FWB (Friend With Benefits). There’s nothing wrong with what he wants, and there’s nothing wrong with what you want – on the other hand he doesn’t know what you want. You are withholding information, trying to protect yourself, but this only makes it more lonely and painful. You cannot protect yourself from the truth, from how you feel, from desire. If you feel bad about yourself, the best thing you can do is be honest.
In terms of more formal practices…Are you familiar with tonglen? Especially what Pema Chodron calls ‘Tonglen on the spot’ — for chopped liver-ness and shame. Just don’t count on it getting rid of the pain. Don’t use getting rid of the pain as the motivation. Let your motivation be that you want to more deeply understand and appreciate your life.
I also suggest not just practicing formal loving kindness meditation, but actively putting more work into deepening friendships and expressing more love in your life. Really being kinder to yourself and to others. For some of us, this might mean going into therapy and/or talking about issues with good friends.
Auntie’s friend Paramananda suggests chanting the Green Tara mantra.
It also could be useful to reflect on the third precept:
I undertake to abstain from harming [even myself] because of sexuality.
With stillness, simplicity and contentment [and straightforwardness], I purify my body.
I haven’t actually read either of these books but perhaps they could help: Mark Epstein’s Open to Desire and Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance.
I hope this has been of some use. If you feel like giving an update later, please do!