You’ll find what you settle for
On a lonely trail, in the middle of a midnight forest, I heard a voice.
I’ve tried to write this story many times and each time I seem to have a knack in writing myself as utterly crazy. I hope to avoid that now.
Like many people, I grew up with a Hollywood notion of love. There was this thing called soulmates and true love and Fate would have me and her meet. The problem is that I wasn’t very good with women. I was bashful, shy, awkward, self-esteem issues, avoidance issues, and dependency issues. At times I was fine, but if the relationship was on the rocks, I was a mess. Up and down, up and down, up and down, I went. Every relationship was a minefield of issues, the same pattern.
In 1995 at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, I gathered some friends and together we started the Creative Artist Society. We were poets and drummers and artists and free thinkers. At our first meeting She walked in. I was instantly in love. She was also in a relationship. I kept my feelings secret for months and we became friends. Half a year later we were dating. That fall we were living together in Houston and the relationship abruptly ended. I spiraled into depression, moved out, and managed to tread water. I thought that I had lost my shot. After all, how many soulmates were there? I had met Her and I failed at it. All of my self doubts, anxiety, dependency, and other issues ravaged me like Harpies. In a few months I was suicidal and had a plan. The Houston Symphony saved my life, however, with their performance of Ave Verum Corpus.
Flash forward a couple of years. I was still living in Houston. I had begun to branch back out into the world. I volunteered with an HIV companion. I read lots of books. I went on dates (though I still had issues). I was working out and feeling good. I was exploring spirituality. However I was still very lonely. I wasn’t happy. Constantly I thought of running away to some place new, create a fresh start. Oregon, Washington, Alaska all loomed large in my imagination. However I also knew that leaving was just running away. If I could not find happiness in Houston, I would not find it anywhere. So I stayed. I went to college at the University of Houston. But I was still lonely.
One night, I think it was 1998, I was walking in the forest near the Arboretum in central Houston. It was around 02:00 or 03:00 in the morning (I was a bartender and used to late nights). I love the night. It is peaceful and beautiful. With no lights, using only stars and moon to illuminate my path, I slowly walked down the path in the forest. Loneliness hung on me like a thick blanket. I lamented, out loud to the night, when will I find her, meaning someone to love and who loves me. It came as a surprise when I heard a voice answer back.
You’ll find what you settle for.
I stopped in my tracks and looked around. The voice was as clear as day. It was outside of my head, but also inside it as well. I don’t do drugs, I hadn’t been drinking, and I get decent sleep on a regular basis. And yet I had heard it.
I continued to walk, mulling over this statement. It was exactly what I needed to hear. While it is true that I had a history of anxious relational styles, avoidance, and dependency (a frustrating mix for everyone to deal with), I also had just enough awareness to recognize that a relationship with a person wasn’t healthy or supportive of me. In other words, I was jumping into relationships, but didn’t want a relationship for the sake of filling a space. I was lonely, yes, terribly so. But I wanted deep connection, lasting love, honest connection… and authentic relationship of two people. Because I hadn’t found that yet, I would end the relationship if she hadn’t done so first. Hearing this single sentence in the quiet hours of the night, I knew the sort of person that I wanted to meet. She was strong and aware of her strengths and weaknesses. She’s cried her heart out and has compassion for the pain of others. She’s been ridiculed and attacked and so she has strength to stand up for herself and others. She’s filled with wonder at the world around her, laughing easily. She expresses herself in touch, movement, words, glances. She is a builder, a connector, a dreamer. She knows the difference between the need to be with her love, and the need to be with someone. She is patient and demanding, complex and simple. She has risked, failed, succeeded, failed again, and keeps dreaming, striving, pushing. Stars shine in the universe of her eyes, and the moon shines in her smile.
This is a tall order, enough to scare anyone away. Who can live up to this? It isn’t fair to demand this of anyone. I get it. But what is missing from the above description is perfect and pedestal. The woman, of whom I write about, is a virtuous person that lives a flourishing life. This visage of the sort of person that I wanted was clear to me at that moment. What was also clear to me was that I was not that sort of man. I had not dared. I had not learned to laugh easily. I harbored fears. I wasn’t patient. I had many weaknesses of character. Standing there on that trail I knew that if I bumped into her at the next bend, recognizing her for what she was, she would not recognize me.
I began to read voraciously, books on purpose and meaning, poetry and science, nature and religion, place and being. As I did so, I became more and more distraught at what was happening around me, the injustices of the world, environmental degradation, and more. There was so much that broke my heart. One afternoon I was in my apartment, a soft rain had started to fall onto the Houston cityscape, and I was feeling powerless against the immense amount of troubles in the world. I had a very strong feeling at the time where I could identify with the sacrificial nature of many martyrs in mythology. I asked, genuinely so, that if I could sacrifice my life to alleviate some of the suffering in the world. It seemed like a puny offering, and I didn’t think anything magical would occur in that moment, no deity transporting me to a cross. But my feeling was heartfelt. I felt powerless. That’s when the Goddess spoke to me again. She said:
I don’t want you to die for the world. I want you to live for it.
It became clearer to me. I had strayed from the path. I saw that I needed to again become a Priest of Beauty (or elegance, or the Logos if you are a Stoic philosopher). I adopted a new course, one toward learning to flourish, to live life with joy and love.
It wasn’t easy, the past 16 years. I’ve made progress, moved backwards, had hangups and so on. But in the end I never lost hope. I believe that she is out there, a woman of beauty, grace, strength, compassion, intelligence, drive, and more. I know… because I’ve met many people of amazing character, dwarfing me in virtue. With each amazing person that I meet, I gain confidence that there is a her out there. And so I lean into difficulties. I do not run from a broken heart, but cherish it for deepening my experience of love. I do not feel that I have arrived at an ending for no ending exists. Even Yo-Yo-Ma must still gain pleasure at new insights in his art. I wouldn’t call myself virtuous in the Aristotelian sense, but I strive for such. I strive to live fully, authentically, with joy and love. And when She finds me, she’ll recognize me, and I her.