If I was ever to leave, I'll say before I go / That you're the best woman I ever known

Burgh Island, Ben Howard featuring Monica Heldal

It was undeniable.

He had the most beautiful hands I had ever seen.

I told him the first time we met.

I was coming out of a season of solitude and trying the dating thing again. I had just got my haircut and he messaged to ask if I wanted to get a drink and I thought, why not? A gal can’t waste an expertly tousled Mandy Moore bob.

We caught up for some coastal Mexican fare and dived straight into interesting conversation fodder around a philosopher we both loved (Kierkegaard – as I had made a pilgrimage to visit his grave in Copenhagen) and other light topics such as what we think happens after death. I didn’t have any exceptionally romantic feelings for him, but then I caught sight of his hands – with a tattoo on each thumb – and was in awe.

After dinner, I said I had to leave soon as I had a tea ceremony early the next morning. We said our goodbyes but not before going to look at wildflowers, the street side lit up by his phone torch and his voice pointing out all the different botanical names in the dark.

We swapped numbers. As I unlocked my bike, I said “You have beautiful hands”. I think people should know nice things about themselves, and I also didn’t know if I was going to see him again.

Then I rode off, proud of myself for going on an actual date more than anything else.

The next morning I got a message from him with a link to a playlist he had made me, a YouTube playlist with my name as the title. A bold move considering I had told him of my allegiance to Spotify, but a very appreciated one considering music is my love language. I put a few songs on, nothing really obvious was screaming out to me, and thanked him for the gesture. In later weeks, on a ferry to work, I played it again and one song got my attention and head bopping right away. I then did that thing where you listen to it obsessively on repeat for days.

The next time we saw each other wasn’t particularly remarkable either – dinner and drinks in a pub on a rainy night. But there was something unfolding between us, slowly and organically. An unravelling; two people getting to know each other over long phone calls and cooked meals and the hunger of wanting.

She and I were giving each other the only we truly have to offer: our time. We were going to give each other the living minutes of our life. — Ethan Hawke

Curling into him under his jumper in the rain. Firm hands on the back of my neck waiting in line for Persian food. Walking back to my car in his shirt after The Killers concert. The way he would say my name in a sentence. And his impeccable grammar.

But this isn’t a love story.

This is what happened after four months of realising what someone is not.

After the most bizarre and devastating four days of my life.

Then when my heart was obliterated in four seemingly straightforward words.

“I can’t do this”

He ended it for reasons that my friends know of.

The grief hit me in waves for months.

If a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; … You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall. — Rainer Marie Rilke

For the first few days after, I wanted to wear a bib that said ‘Freshly Heartbroken’ while riding my bike so that cars would be kind to me when I was finding it hard to merge because SORRY – I can’t see through my splitting headache and chaos of tears.

I was broken and my friends put me back together. A phone call to my brother. Dinner with my mum and stepdad. Jars of food and flowers on my steps. Kind souls checking in.

This is what happens when love gets real for some people. They run and all I wanted was for him to stay.

I craved him like a drug, and it was fucked.

Possibility is a powerful narcotic.

The missing is mental. We miss the physical form. We are creatures of touch.

I just wanted to hear one song without thinking of you.

I was unmoored in an ocean of deep sadness.

It was emotional torture and my heart was so so tired.

In the final month of us being together, I felt myself getting smaller to fit in the spaces I could find around him to make him feel comfortable. We can all be so nimble when we like someone. I was dying to talk to him, and he would take days to reply. He would arrive and say that he had to leave soon. I was going crazy with frustration and yet full of desire.

Now I had to live the “can’t”.

He wasn’t the love of my life, I know that now. But he was selfish and inconsistent, deeply angry, and in the end – cruel, mean and unkind. That last one hurt the most.

I still don’t think he is a terrible person, but his actions were terrible.

As Ram Dass said, hurt people hurt people.

The fact that he showed me his worst traits and I still wanted him seems impossible to me now.

Was it the dopamine? His hands? The sight of his hurting inner child?

I knew something was up when I told him he was beautiful. And he didn’t believe me.

I have observed there is a silent endemic of men who don’t love themselves or don’t think they are worthy of receiving love and no one is talking about it.

We all need connection, belonging and touch.

Sensitive people; even more so.

All that love that had grown for him, had nowhere to go, so it imploded.

You can ask “why why why?!?@?” and cry to the sky for days and you won’t get an answer. (Also side topic: what is it with men hiking in jeans – is it poor planning or a lack of luon?)

I remember reading in The Surrender Experiment that ‘very intense situations don’t have to leave psychological scars if we are willing to process our changes at a deeper level.’ That is, to throw yourself into the hurt, not away from it. Why would you do that? So you can ‘deeply honour the transformative power of life.’ Apparently.

So that’s what I did. I cried, I processed, I spoke to my friends, and sat with tea. I swam in the sea. I pulled tarot cards. I hugged my very soft cat. I smiled at the sun. The tendency to close your heart because it’s just been ripped out of your chest is normal. I get it.

But as Michael A. Singer also writes, ‘joy, excitement and freedom are simply too beautiful to give up.’

I decided to feel the loss fully, as I read in the Tao Te Ching one morning during tea, so I could be completely at one with this loss. Being at one with such a big disappointment is easy to conceptualise, and very hard to do. But making sense of something in the now and not in ten years’ time better serves you and your relationships to come.

Heartbreak begins the moment we are asked to let go but cannot… Heartbreak is an indication of our sincerity: in a love relationship, in a life’s work, in trying to learn a musical instrument, in the attempt to shape a better more generous self. — David Whyte

Angie McMahon’s song ‘Soon’ was pretty much my break-up soundtrack, “I’m so tired of being messed around / I’ll have to face this all alone” since we never spoke again.

I still caught myself thinking of his beautiful hands.

It was not meant to be and it was a hard truth to be okay with.

But still, I didn’t believe that there would be anyone in the world as beautiful as him. I was certain of it.

And for a while, that’s how it seemed.

Then one day, completely out of nowhere, a beautiful Irishman is reciting Yeat’s poetry to me on a work call over Zoom. At like 11 am on a Wednesday.

I was shook.

I hadn’t noticed another person until now.

Then I couldn’t stop.

A Casio watch with sun-glow skin and three lines of small tattoos from a bus window.

A husky, baritone voice in the museum hall.

Sea-filled eyes at the farmers market.

The arms of Thor.

Any man reading Braiding Sweetgrass.

Hands that have worked.

There is more than one beautiful man.

These words dropped into my head and I wrote them down in my journal. And in this space of no expectation, just appreciation of the male form, the loveliest things started to emerge.

A plate of biscuits and two mugs of tea in a forest.

Singing Beeswing walking the starry streets of Doolin.

Book browsing and op shopping.

Picking peas and the perfect song.

If you take your time, it’s amazing what will come to meet you. — John O’Donohue

I know it feels like there is ‘one’ when you think you are with ‘the one’, but there are many people you can feel this with.

I wondered if I would ever feel the same way about someone again.

As Pheobe Bridgers sings, ‘You missed my heart / You got me good, I knew you would’. I knew you would. 

I also realised that it is a classic ‘avoidant’ strategy to put someone on a pedestal – the elusive ‘ex’ ghost or the ‘impossible’ man – and I caught myself doing that. This fixation on one person and their honest-to-god amazing hands stopped me from seeing all the other beautiful men around me.

And there are plenty.

Here is what I know:

I get a sense of people very quickly.

Love is mutual enthusiasm.

Interested is interesting. 

A relationship is a fascinating territory for endless conversation.

Love should feel like soft peace and expansive flow. Not anxiously waiting for a reply.

I am not working to have another pet project called: me, falling in love with your potential while I get nothing in return. 

I really like my own company, so I have to enjoy yours just as much.

As I wrote in Our Longings Never Tire, “to feel as good and freeing as my solitude.”

But the one man loved the pilgrim soul in you, and loved the sorrows of your changing face. — WB Yeats

I once read that no one can pretend longer than 3 months, and I can’t pretend for even a day.

My new assessment for dating is, can I be bothered writing a story about you someday? And also – are you worth not reading a good book for?

I don’t have it in me to get hurt so viciously again. I won’t allow it.

Work on your self-worth (we all are).

Say you are going to do something – and then actually do it. If you’re the slightest bit unsure, don’t promise anything. It’s exhausting.

And if I tell you that you are beautiful, believe me.

When Truth’s fingers touch my shoulder, I hear bone touching bone. – J. Ruth Gendler

This period of darkness has passed now, with occasional aches from time to time which is normal I suppose when you’ve let someone in.

What if it were easy?

A new friend called Orlagh asked me this question recently and it rocked my world. It is my guiding light now.

Life is unpredictable, love even more so. This is life – if you’re going to be open to love, you are going to get hurt. But you also don’t have to be decimated from it.

I guess he showed me what I already know, that I have an incredible capacity for joy. I learnt this amidst a hard breakup.

Honour everything. Pray to something unnameable. Fall for someone impractical. Reacquaint yourself with desire and all her slender hands. Bear beauty for as long as you are able and if you spot a sunning warbler glowing like a prism, remind yourself – joy is not a trick. — J. Sullivan

Dating someone is really a game of ‘are you the person you say you are’ – A beautiful question to consider is: are you capable of meeting me?

It’s nice to be met.

I realised I like relating. When you are in it, you cannot imagine there is another one more beautiful. When you are out of it, you realise that there are.

Someone can captivate you to the point of extinction of all other possibilities as if there are no other people in the world.

But there are.

I really thought you were the most beautiful man in the world, but you are just another one.

It was an easy ending, for him. He was never heard from again.

The price for not trusting your intuition is high. Regret, anger, self-pity and disbelief at yourself. Future note to my soul: BELIEVE RED FLAGS.

If I could gift self-love to every human I would. 

I was naïve enough not to believe him when he told me what he really thought of himself. When he said, I can’t have you hold on when I’m barely holding on myself. This was the beginning of the end really, except I clung on. That maybe I knew that too is the cold truth. I was holding on because I was too afraid to let go.

To ‘rise’ in love is to love creatively and freely; it is to love yourself as much as the one you love. — Betony Vernon

Life is kind. If you can accept that whatever is happening to you is what needs to happen (however devastating and hard, I’m with you) – then your life will change.

You can’t grow with people who don’t love how growth looks on you. — Valencia Pierre

One evening, early on, lying entwined in each other, I asked how he was feeling. And he said: “I think this is something.” I laughed as I had meant in his body, but the sincerity of his answer stuck with me.

This really was something.

But there is so much more.

I can’t be with someone who doesn’t want to be with me and delight in magic.

I want incredible ease and knowingness that cannot be expressed in words.

Who smells of earth and woodsmoke.

Remember when we met
When I was a kite
When you were the wind

– Steve Denehan

That line still makes me choke up every time. It is not surprising that my second highest value is freedom.

To be so deeply seen, that you know the composition of my bones. And I yours.

And did you get what
You wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
Beloved on the earth.

— Raymond Carver

I still struggle with the fact that I was all of myself, and he didn’t choose me.

I am ready (and you are not)

I have to be free (of you) 

My friend Yas lent me her copy of the book You Are A Goddess and this clarified my confusion:

If you choose to love an awakened woman, you cannot stay asleep.

If you choose to love an awakened woman, every part of your soul will be aroused.

Frankly, if you prefer a normal life, stick with a normal girl.

If you want a tame life, seek only a woman who has allowed herself to be tamed.

Then I discovered something holy.

This time, this heartbreak, I spiralled upwards. Not the other way around which is usually how it goes.

I’m not interested in being dead on the inside.

I am here to be fully alive.

I live in endless wonder and will not settle for a relationship that isn’t truly liberating, sacred, expansive and FUN as well as nourishing for my soul with full-body laughter and rapt joy every day.

Nothing is sexier than someone who makes you laugh every day and until your sides hurt. And give you their total presence.

But my nature is nature.
Like everything alive I was meant to be split open,
to blossom, to be sucked, to be eaten,
to lean, to bend, to wither,
to die and die and die and die until I died.

– Marie Howe

You know when you put on really comfy clothes and the fabric is so soft on your skin, and you’re so pleased with yourself and could melt into eternity – well, that’s what love should feel like. Simple and fulfilling.

​​When Johnny Cash was asked for his definition of paradise, he replied: “This morning, with her, having coffee.”. He was referring to the love of his life, June Carter Cash.

If this hasn’t happened for you yet remember, the unmanifest is pure space.

The synergistic process of two whole, integrated people merging together is explosively alchemic. — Sophie Bashford

Trust life.

I love the line: ‘It was though I had been offered the ocean’ by Jorge Luis Borges.

That feeling of possibility when a new love is entering your life is very real; the enormity, sheer beauty and panic of it all. You feel like you could drown and die, or at least pass out. I know it’s too huge to name.

I hope they feel like home. 

You have to be ready for this kind of love.

Understanding and breaking out of what you have been conditioned by others or your negative self-talk to believe about yourself is a huge part of it. An awareness of how past traumas or a traumatised nervous system is affecting your current or future relationships also really helps. If you are convinced that you are unlovable or have huge walls up, fair enough – you are protecting yourself, but I hope you figure out why. Or you will just keep pushing worthy people away.

I got closure in my own kind of way, on a hike in Ireland. And I have been fully in a love affair with life ever since.

I still think cute meets are the universe’s favourite side hustle. But you can also cute meet yourself. Take yourself out where you want to be taken (market, national park, adventure sport, literary salon, festival weekend, dinner and book at a bar) and see who comes across your path.

The human form is ecstatic. It is always ready to be met.

Hands are how we make contact with the world. Hands are how we feed ourselves and others. How we plant seeds and harvest what grows. How we map each other’s bodies. How we give without words.

I once held my beloved friend’s hand in a hospital bed in an emergency room cubicle as he vomited up charcoal tablets to clear his stomach of the sleeping tablets he had attempted to overdose with. It felt like holding a version of his childhood hands. I will always cherish the sight of his hands and his soul.

I do have a fondness for hands, perhaps because they are the frontier of our bodies and we offer our heart through them. I know I do.

Once someone touched my jaw so softly I cried. Once someone held my hand so lightly I wept. — Sanna Wani

There is more than one beautiful man. In fact, there are lots.

More than you can imagine. It’s astonishing. You will see.

Just promise that you will never leave yourself to love someone else.

We’ve never met, but I hope one day we will, so you can tell me what you’ve created and the beauty that blossomed. — Guillaume Wolf

Our gifts are always offered to those who truly need them.

Healing happens when two souls are joined in love.

To open like a flower.

May you bloom.

Ask for what you need to flourish.

I know it’s scary and you will probably freak out occasionally. I still do. What if you trusted your intuition for once?  

You know when you know. Because you are not starving for affection and attention and basic emotional needs. You are being met halfway. 

The soul as the real ground you are sharing with another person. — John O’Donohue

As a girl in a sock shop in Galway told me, “You are getting breadcrumbs, sister – and you are giving him the whole bakery.”

I’m no longer accepting anything less than from anyone.

I want to feast.

To be free and fully me.

When actions and words align.

Easy silence.

Just to be beside you is enough. — Gabriel Fitzmaurice

All the love in friendship.

To shepherd and encourage each other.

Consistent effort and KINDNESS.

Mutual curiosity and growth.

“I know you”

Your voice does to me what autumn does to the trees. You call to say hello and clothes fall naturally. — Rupi Kaur

Intellectual foreplay.

The thrill of your skin.

One glance could undress me.

Reading our books side by side.

Live music and movies and road trips.

Joy is not made to be a crumb. – Mary Oliver

A kettle boiling for two.

Conversations that sing in your mind for days.

Silly banter and soul on fire love.

Hot chips and all.

And I want it with you.

I can’t wait to find the person who will come into the kitchen just to smell my neck and get behind me and hug me and breathe me in and make me turn around and make me kiss his face and put my hands in his hair even with my soapy dishwater drips. I am a lovely woman. Who will come into my kitchen and be hungry for me?

– Jenny Slate