Recently at a Sunday lunch with friends, the 16-year old daughter of one truly magnificent woman bravely shared her concerns regarding her relationship with a young man to the other mature women present, and I found myself in a half-circle of beautifully complex women, invisibly taking hands and sharing their experiential wisdom about love, men, relationships, and life.
This young woman had the precious opportunity to share her heart and hear the compassionate, funny, pain-filled, bittersweet, humble, gutsy and courageous responses to her questions from five very different women, female-warriors who have travelled weird and wonderful journeys. And in each one of those women’s inner landscapes, something exquisitely transformative unfolded.
I could see in their eyes how they were transported to their teenage years, to their (perhaps until that moment untold) stories of heartbreak, longing, rejection, confusion and self-doubt, but most importantly learning, growth, insight and resilience. What was so striking about the stories, was the common thread that ran through each: the heart wrenching truth of how often women define their worth through the love of another, the obligation women often feel in saving their significant others from themselves, the shame women often carry in not having been enough to be loved, and the many ways in which women make themselves small in order for others to stand tall.
This young woman gave her young male friend’s heart so much time, effort and thought. She cared so deeply for the impact her decisions could have on him. She knew this relationship was not sustainable, she knew in small ways she was starting to shrink. She knew she had to end it, but she cared so deeply for his heart and the hurt that her ‘rejection’ would cause.
Relationships often stand at the centre of a woman’s world. It is often the heart-beat, the pulse, the core of their existence. Some of these relationships are deserving of that focus and very enriching, but some are definitely not. At her young age she could not fully understand that her ending of the relationship could never be a rejection of who he is, but more a rejection of that which could not serve her highest version of herself.
At the age of 43 I have come to understand that all relationships are for growth and the learning often comes through surrendering to the discomfort and working one’s way through it. But I also know that when a relationship suffocates your soul, the learning is through leaving and letting your soul reclaim its breath of life.
Reclaiming of one’s soul does not equal rejection of another’s soul. It is often interpreted as such, because we are caught in the illusion that another can be responsible for our happiness. Consequently we define ourselves based on whether we are loved by another or not. How I wish every daughter of this earth could know that it is not true. That worth is intrinsic, indefinable, incomparable, immeasurable, immaculate and infinite. It resides within and nothing external can validate that.
In her audiobook How to Love a Woman, Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes sets out 12 guidelines for choosing a mate for a life-long relationship. It is so gentle, powerful, concise and true, and such a true gem of wisdom I almost can’t believe I haven’t yet handed it out on flyers to every woman I know.
Guidelines For Choosing A Mate For A Life Long Relationship
(excerpted from ‘How to Love a Woman’ by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola-Estes)
1. Choose someone as though you are blind. Close your eyes and see what you can feel of that person, of their kindness, loyalty, insight, devotion, their ability to be concerned with you, their ability to care for themselves as an independent being. It is more important what we “see” with our eyes closed when it comes to the object of our love.
2. Choose a person who has the ability to learn. Those who are unable to learn are intolerant. Choose a person who is curious about the world and how people work, a person who is gradually learning and evolving.
3. Choose someone who is willing to be both strong and sensitive. Choose a person who has the strength of a tree which is flexible in the wind and does not break when blasted with powerful, gale force winds. Choose a person who has the ability to see and be alert to things around him or her.
4. Choose someone who when you hurt them, they feel pain, and they are willing to show it, and vice versa, when they hurt you, they see your pain, and they feel sorry.
5. Choose a person who has an inner life: woodworking, drawing, writing, meditation … something that they love. Choose someone who is on their own journey and sees you as a partner and fellow traveller on that journey. Choose a person who is capable of being merged AND separate with a bond between you which can stretch over distance and time without breaking.
6. Choose someone who has similar passions in life to your own. A relationship is for making memories together.
7. Choose someone who has similar values about having children, about childbearing, about family members, about roots and roles for women and men and kinds of marriage and money and religion. This is about the pragmatics of decreasing the friction in the relationship, and if there are differences, they should be worked out before there is a long term commitment to the relationship.
8. Choose someone who is compassionate, who is able to listen, someone who gives equal time.
9. Choose someone who can laugh at themselves and who knows how to stop an argument in mid-sentence.
10. Choose someone who is able to overlook certain faults or characteristics and know what you can live with. This is important because the things that are so cute and charming in the beginning, symbiotic stage of a relationship will drive you insane later.
Several things which are intolerable and unacceptable in a lifelong relationship:
Anything that takes a person away from their true soul life
A person who cannot tell the truth
A person who cannot give
A person who cannot face you after they have made a mistake and who tries to cover it over in a dramatic and large way instead of owning up and showing humble remorse.
Accepting any of these would be like starting a relationship on swamp ground.
11. Choose someone with whom you can be friends, not just lovers. Are you willing to do for your partner what you are willing to do for your girlfriend or your guy friend? Are you willing to sit and listen in minute detail to how that person thinks, and to do what they would like to do? Is that person able and willing to do the same for you?
12. This is the most important. Make sure that when you choose, you are choosing someone who makes your life bigger rather than smaller. That will tell you all you need to know.
I send motherly love to the Daughters of Earth. Go out and choose a love that honours your soul.
Read next: This Is Love