I recently got married.
Ten years before my wedding, I had a dream. I really owe my wedding to it.
At the time, I was preparing to write my thesis for my master’s degree in counseling psychology. Up until this dream, I’d been struggling against major writer’s block.
Here’s the story: Two actors were having their wedding, full of pageantry and romantic symbolism. There was a parade of Renaissance dressed acrobats, dancers doing the waltz, and the path to the church was covered in rose petals. It was a spectacular wedding procession, seen only in movies, or in this case, my dream. It wasn’t my wedding, but I knew it spoke to my desire to ﬁnd a romantic partner.
Soon afterwards, I completely shifted the topic of my thesis from depression treatments in psychotherapy to dive deep into researching the stages of women’s search for a romantic partner. I did this by exploring three romantic comedy heroines and their quest for love: Bridget Jones, Francis Mayes from Under the Tuscan Sun, and Kenya McQueen from Something New. While Bridget Jones stood for a more recognized romantic heroine, the characters of Frances and Kenya revealed other characteristics that more closely matched my own romantic journey. Each of these characters reﬂected, in their own way, a part of my own quest for romantic love.
As my academic project’s focus shifted, mine did as well. The deeper I allowed to explore each of my movie heroines’ romantic journeys, more layers of my own journey were being revealed back to me.
In retrospect, these were really my ﬁrst steps toward the altar. These are a few of the things I learned on the way.
Greet the Inner Other
Around the graduate school years, my romantic life was non-existent. I was too focused on work and school to look more deeply at how not having a partner pained me.
As I dove into writing my thesis, a realization came into my consciousness: While others were jumping head ﬁrst into relationships, I had turned working on myself into a protection mechanism.
That seminal dream was a nudge from own psyche that it was time to connect at a more intimate level with another.
I knew I couldn’t go dating without ﬁrst taking a deeper look inward. I knew that I had to cultivate and heal the relationship with my Inner Other, so I could be ready to meet my Outer Other. Luckily, that dream and my subsequent thesis opened the ﬂoodgates in my heart and I took to doing the soul work required to meet my internal self.
Make Sure You’re Up to The Task
The thesis was just the tip of the iceberg, it turned out. Getting it written was like preemptively writing a travel manual for my forthcoming odyssey towards love.
When the academic work was all said and done and the diploma was ﬁrmly in hand, I committed to living out my thesis.
I reconnected with that which nourished my soul and allowed every aspect
of my life to become a vessel for the love I was seeking.
I met dreamwork with gusto. I reengaged with my artistic self, analyzed my fantasies — even celebrity crushes — and prepared my house for love.
It’s a Slow Burn
I love slow cookers. It’s easy to seek out instant gratiﬁcation in our app-inclined culture, but there’s something to be said about allowing time to do its thing. Relationships, especially romantic ones, are better suited for the low-and-slow technique, especially when it comes to the particularly bitter or pungent pieces of ourselves.
Take onions, for example.
Onions can represent your rough edges, your unmanaged feelings – anything that might need the ﬁnesse of time to sweeten into something delicious.
Prior to meeting my husband, I did my time on the therapy couch, and really embraced self-inquiry to get to the bottom of ﬁguring out what challenges I was facing. However, that’s just one side of the journey. It’s an entirely different dance when you have a partner.
Inevitably, they’ll bring their own onions to the kitchen.
Once my husband and I began our relationship footwork, I quickly learned a few moves that helped us step into a healthy, happy relationship. One onion at a time.
The ﬁrst move? Become your partner’s guide to your inner landscape.
Remember your partner is looking at you from their own point of view. It’s your job to help them understand you from the inside out.
While you each begin to take on the role of personal guide to your respective inner maps, keep your all-time favorite teacher in mind. They likely weren’t ruthless or snappy. Remember what works: encouragement, appreciation, joy. Avoid that which doesn’t serve.
In other words, don’t let your onions get in the way.
Know that it takes time to truly know someone, no matter how impatiently excited you may be. It doesn’t happen overnight.
The second move: Bring your beginner’s mindset.
It’s often said that communication is the key to a healthy relationship.
I think there’s another important factor to that key: bring curiosity into the dynamic.
The antithesis of engaging curiosity is black and white judgments. Having a gut feeling or trusting your intuition is a great practice, but jumping to conclusions is an entirely different action. A lot can get lost when we fail to ask questions.
In short: Less statements and judgments, more engaging, inquiry, and curiosity. Ask questions. Be open to learning about their inner landscape.
While it can feel intimidating to start something – like communicating in a whole new way – if you’re not already a master, you can’t master what you don’t begin. Instead of approaching this new relationship with fear of failure, consider approaching it with ecstatic joy and blissful abandon as you curiously dig into this delicious new ground.
The third move: Let your partner be your teacher.
When we’re looking for a romantic partner – or we’ve found someone that makes us want to stay in the dance a bit longer – we’re given the opportunity to get to know completely new pieces of ourselves and our lives.
The triggers – good and bad – that come up in our relationships are clues hinting at our edges.
And that is awesome.
Keep in mind step number two and stay open to understanding what makes your partner tick instead of dismissing their otherness they are, after all, another person.
This isn’t to say that red ﬂags should be ignored. It’s simply to say that just because your partner does something differently than you do – feel, think, process, whatever – it doesn’t make it invalid.
In every relationship, especially in romantic ones, we are teachers to our partners.
And they are our teachers, too.
Passion may set the table, but love serves the dinner.
The Step Between
The time between writing my thesis and meeting my husband took two years.
There were moments when I wished things would happen faster. I watched, bittersweet from the sidelines, as my friends found their partners and I wondered when it would be my turn.
Despite my frustration, I knew that this time was about commitment to myself and the journey inward. It was a time of honoring my marriage to myself and committing to deepening the relationship with my Inner Other. I was learning to see the shadow and light aspects of my Inner Other and how these facets were projected onto my relationships.
It was a deeply internal time that may not have pleased my more anxious and fast-paced self, but even my psyche likes slow cooking, and it knows what it’s doing.
What I often notice when I share my process is that while, at some level, others see the truth in doing the inner work and embracing the ﬂow of time, another side of them wants something more immediate.
I can see this because I recognize it. I was there, too, and I really wanted things to speed up and meet my immediate desire.
However, our psyche and our soul follow their own developmental speed. They have their own rhythm.
My recommendation in taking these insights to heart begins with curiosity followed by a heavy dose of patience. The onions cooked low and slow make for a far more scrumptious soup.
On the morning of my wedding day, as I was getting ready, my sister said: “The wedding is just the beginning, what matters is what comes afterwards.”
That’s the soup.
Although my husband and I have been together for eight years now, I know that crossing the ceremonial threshold at the wedding, we have now stepped into a new adventure, full of new joy and, admittedly, new onions.
No onions, no soup.
It’s a new chapter of our lives, a whole new landscape.
Our marriage is a perfectly, painstakingly simmered culmination of an experience that began before we met, a dance we’ve performed together, a fervently curious development, and the beginning of yet another pilgrimage of the heart and soul.