The mornings at the University of Oxford pulse with quiet yet palpable determination. Students cycle to the library with armfuls of leather-bound books; conversations ranging from global poverty to the value of the Romantic sensibility flow daily in the cafés. When I arrived in Oxford for the first time, the church bells were ringing. In that town that evokes history and poetry along every side street, my life unfurled in beautiful ways. Oxford is now a place that calls to me and comforts me, providing a memory of stillness that treats anxiety. Oxford is the place where I fell in love.
I woke up earlier than expected on the morning of July 8, 2015 to cold air slipping through my cracked window. I pulled my hair up, grabbed the books off my desk, and walked to the coffee shop across the street. I settled into a spot in the Missing Bean close enough to the window to feel the heat of the sunlight. I warmed myself with a very milky cup of coffee and spent several hours reading and crafting a post-colonial critique of a Neo-Victorian novel. As the sun continued to rise, my marginalia became thicker and harsher. I became increasingly engrossed in my work.
And yet, when Jack walked in, I happened to look up. I saw him smile and say hello to the baristas behind the counter. I remember the first time I saw him with striking clarity. I took note of his presence and his kindness. Then, I returned to my book. Within two minutes, I heard: “May I share your table?”
We sat together for the next hour. Jack asked me questions intermittently about what I was writing, my favorite books, and my upcoming trip to Ireland. I asked about his course at Oxford, the philosophical project he was working on, and his upbringing in Australia. Our first meeting ended with an invitation to a reading of Paradise Lost. The weeks that followed unfolded naturally and quickly. Falling in love with Jack felt like coming home. It wasn’t an attraction flooded with anxiety. It was a love that coursed immediately with trust. The passion was not dependent on posturing; our passion was, and still is, grounded in transparency.
I look back on our first meeting with wonder. It is hard to believe that we once sat across from one another as strangers. It is hard not to believe in fate, remembering how we fell in love within a week of knowing each other, how our love continues to grow deeper and truer as time goes on.
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In the two years that have followed our first meeting, I have learned about the healing and light that partnerships contain, if we practice humility and vulnerability. Wisdom rises with openness.
Romantic relationships are woven of the breathtaking, the challenging, and the beautiful. Each day presents opportunities to turn towards our partner or to turn away, to lean into growth or to resist it. From minor conflicts to larger spiritual and emotional considerations, healthy relationships invite us to move beyond our egos and connect to one another’s souls.
Our egos cover our conceptions of ourselves, our thoughts about others, and our attitudes towards the external world with fear. When we engage only on the level of the ego, we conflate fear with truth. We hold onto our shame. We feel plagued by anxiety. We believe success determines our worthiness. We see the worst in other people and in society. When we get caught up in our egos in relationships, we argue. We fight about the lamp in the corner of the room or how the dishes are not done in the sink. We use language that blames the other for our emotions. Or we disengage. We close doors. We dismiss our partner’s feelings as invalid.
When we engage on the level of the spirit, we see through the lens of a spiritual love that activates compassion, mercy, and understanding. When we access what dwells beyond the ego, we can see the divinity in other human beings. We can see the work love has to do in the world and the healing to be done between people. When we practice this in our relationships, we can see our partner’s wounds and respond with empathy, instead of reacting with harshness or indifference. We can embrace opportunities to heal the pain we carry with us, to help heal the pain that our partner carries.
Our romantic partners ideally teach us to live with kindness and attentiveness on a daily basis. If we are willing to shed our egos like dead snakeskin, we create the space to realign with our soul’s true nature: love.
Marianne Williamson writes this on the relationship between the ego and the spirit. The ego is equivalent to the clouds in the sky. Sometimes, the clouds grow thick and dark. We may believe that the sky has turned wholly gray, just like we might believe that we are our egos or that our fear is real. However, if you ascend above clouds, you will see the sun and the clear sky are always there, even through the darkest, fiercest storms. No matter the thickness of the clouds, our true selves, our spirits, the love and divinity within us, are always present, too.
Relationships teach us to reorient towards love, to know that love is within each of us always and to call that love to the surface. If we can love one another better at home, we will inevitably act more compassionately in the world.
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Through loving Jack, I have learned a great deal about my own patterns: when I shut down, what frustrates me, what angers me, what annoys me. However, I have learned more about my true nature: what brings me joy, what lights me up, what comforts me, what inspires me. Jack is my partner in everything. This past weekend, we celebrated two years of great joy, some storms, and incredible growth. Our love is resilient. We choose to turn towards one another and pay close attention. We are committed to living a shared life of the spirit, living out a union in which love, respect, forgiveness, empathy, creativity, courage, and wisdom thrive.