If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that ponies don’t solve everything. I know this because ever since I moved to Colorado, I’ve become friendly with people who had unconventional pets as kids. Some had pigs, others owned chickens, some cows—and even an actual pony or two. But in my world, ponies were what you referenced in the litany of things you didn’t get when you were growing up. To underscore your point about the cruelty of the world—and your inability to forge healthy, loving relationships—you’d tack the pony on to the end of your statement like it was the final punctuation on a life sentence.
Here’s how the Pony Defense works: “I never got the guy/girl because my parents didn’t love me enough to model a healthy relationship, so I had to make it up as I went. I was clueless, too afraid to fail in my relationships, so I invested less, shut down more in the face of fear, I deflected, placed blame, or did a pre-emptive breakup just to save us the hassle. Because these things end. They always do.” Feeling accomplished at having advocated for my reasons why love could never work, I’d skillfully reach for the final insult, indicating the end of a one-sided conversation. “I never got a pony, so there you go,” which is another way of staying resigned to unhappiness and the fear of extending toward true connection.
Fear, if left unchecked, convinces us to give up altogether on love. And we do it in stages: we don’t want our hearts broken, so we say less than we should. We throw our hands up, holding each other at arm’s length instead of heart to heart. We numb ourselves to feeling, convinced it’s protection against the pain of loving. We get comfortable recoiling from love and lose our way.
Fear disorients us, alienates us from our own hearts.
The poet Oscar Wilde cautioned us against this kind of withdrawal when he wrote, “Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead. The consciousness of loving and being loved brings a warmth and richness to life that nothing else can.” So how do we get back to that effortless place of being loved and loving again? How can give ourselves permission to call our hearts back from their hiding places? The answer is, one tiny miraculous moment at a time.
In theory, the mindful dater knows that now is all there is and that being anywhere but present is pointless. The other reality is that we’ve all sustained damage on some level and we’re still working through it. Perhaps too much of our wiring is tangled is tangled up in the past. And we didn’t get those ponies.
If you’re ready to bring your heart out from hiding enough to trust love again, here are a few suggestions to help get you there:
Let’s be clear, love doesn’t make any sense. We want it, we fear it. It heals and wounds us. We’re lost without it. Rumi, the great Sufi mystical poet, embodied such a deep understanding of love’s complexity, he made us feel in his writing that we were never to expect joy without pain and that they were, in fact, one and the same. “Through love,” he wrote, “burning fire is pleasing light. Through love, bitter things seem sweet, through love bits of copper are made gold.” To trust this mystery is simply to marvel at it, to be curious about it, to be okay with not knowing it in the ways we thing we should, and to welcome all of it as it arises.
In the grocery store last week, while wheeling my tiny cart through crowded aisles, I began to notice the shoppers as they walked by. I looked down at my cart and wondered who else was going home to take their meals standing up, half-eating from the stove top, alone. Squelching the urge to go all Eddie Vedder in the middle of the market—I just want to scream hello—I kept quiet, suddenly overcome with longing.
It gets to me sometimes, the desire to connect and belong without needing to convince anyone of how important it is. As humans, we do belong together. It’s just how we live. As single people open to romantic love, the same holds true, but in a more intimate way. To trust the process of longing is a good thing, even in the moments it tempts you to flip out among the dry goods. Make no mistake, allowing your desire to move through you, rather than bottling it, will burn, but it means you’re here and so very alive. And there’s no better place to be than that.
Vicki and I were great friends since college. She was loud, opinionated and offbeat, and I loved her instantly. Whenever we went to a party or campus function together, she was always among the last to leave. And if she was giving me a ride, that meant I was also one of the last people in the place. Vicki had what I considered loose social boundaries back then. For whatever reason, she didn’t hold herself to anyone’s standards of etiquette but her own. At parties, she’d work the room like a champ, nursing a single glass of wine or beer the whole night. Inevitably, I’d find her at the end of the night engrossed a lively conversation with a person she’d never met before. It made me uncomfortable, her easy rapport with people, but I’m glad that quality rubbed off on me in time.
As she often advised, “Talk to people, Kriste, and you’ll never meet a stranger.” She was right. Learning to let go of the need to leave at a ‘decent’ hour or to ‘be appropriate’ according to anyone else’s rules is the hallmark of trusting your natural inclinations. It’s what facilitates the tiny miracle of true connection and, ultimately, love.
We take in the world through our senses. Not just the major five—or six—but our emotions, too. When we don’t acknowledge our feelings, it’s the equivalent of willfully shutting down a major faculty like the ability to hear or see, touch, hear or taste; we shortchange our capacity to experience the world around us.
“To be sensual, I think, is to respect and rejoice in the force of life, of life itself, and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the making of bread.” Those words from James Baldwin express the essence of learning to trust the miracle of our bodies as conduits of information, keepers of deep wisdom, and instruments of love.
As for those folks I know who owned ponies as kids, I can tell you their lives didn’t turn out perfectly, either. They’ve been wounded too, just like everybody else. Learning to trust love again is a journey of courage and boldness that we must undertake on a daily basis. Showing up for the work is what will not only open us to love, it will also reveal us to ourselves as the miracle of our own lives.