My Ex Dumped Me for the Buddha

Car payment, student loans, rent. Rattlesnakes in the yard, hairy spiders in my shower. . . . None of this equaled happy, and yet I had never been more in love, or less willing to face the truth that the relationship was dead.

I left Tucson because I was broke, and because the man I loved didn’t want to live with me. He wasn’t ready, he said. It didn’t feel right. We should be happier. He was right, of course, but that didn’t solve anything. I was still unemployed, recovering from an ear infection and a car accident. The relentless sun still seeped through the walls of my cottage, a mile from the road and surrounded by overgrown creosote. My idea of happiness was not to wake up everyday, hair grown out and 15 pounds heavier, and trudge down the dirt driveway past the imposing stare of the Catalina mountains to the mailbox where the worrying began. Car payment, student loans, rent. Rattlesnakes in the yard, hairy spiders in my shower.

None of this equaled happy, and yet I had never been more in love, or less willing to face the truth that the relationship was dead.

When we did the tour of New York two years earlier, friends had confirmed it; he was the one. Not only because he was intelligent, attractive, a New York ex-pat and 33; but he also meditated. After dating a parade of men self-absorbed in their art, their music, or their looks, I had finally hit the jackpot with someone devoted to Buddhist meditation. I believed then that a spiritual path—particularly an eastern one—would erase or at least soothe most difficulties in the human experience. So when conversations about the future wore circles in my mind, I had faith. When we argued about which was the deeper path, hatha yoga or vipassana meditation (my practice is more intense than your practice, he once implied), I rationalized: we’re connecting on levels more intimate than most of my relationships. Isn’t that better? Our arguments were complex and weird, and so therefore more significant, yes? Possibly with karmic repercussions. We could be fighting about window treatments and the mortgage. It may sound naïve, but our shared faith grounded my soul in unprecedented ways. So did our great sex. I couldn’t imagine anything better in this lifetime.

We drove to Chicago where I hoped to work for the summer. There were many “ifs,” conditions full of potential, contingent on things going right. If you come back to Tucson, he said, we can get a house together. If I adjuncted and lived below the poverty line, he said, I could build my academic resume—and wouldn’t that be great, because eventually we could both teach at the same small, community college in the northeast and he could meditate during the summers. “While you do what,” a lawyer friend had asked me, “wait outside the yurt with the kid?”

Those details would work themselves out, I told myself. Spiritual life transcended bourgeois, urban needs like high-profile jobs and two week vacations in Europe. We sped through the red rocks in Utah, “We Won’t Get Fooled Again” blasting on the radio, dog panting in the backseat. I chose to focus on what we had (yoga, Buddha, and sex) to think positively, since I had once been told by a spiritual practitioner that I was a very powerful manifester. You might say that this is where the magical thinking began.

As great as Eastern Spiritual Practices have been for our culture, they can be misused just as any other religion. It depends how badly the practitioner wants to lie. And I wanted it bad.

It’s so much easier, two years later, to see the hallmarks of an ideal turned sour. I am sure ex-cult members say the same thing. I’m neither stupid nor needy—in fact, I am so highly educated and independent, I thought nothing of him leaving me in Chicago while he traveled for the summer. (Why shouldn’t he continue being a carefree grad student while my life fell apart?). I am so mature, I chalked up his constant avoidance of my misery as a phase. I did the same with his new 50 mile a day bicycle hobby that had him leaving my bed before sunrise each morning. With the early, sexless curfews at night. And with his two hour a day meditation practice (except Sundays when he tried to sit for four hours). I made allowances because I respected the spiritual path: it had helped me, I had even written a book about it. A cousin of mine who has lived in an ashram for over 25 years advised me when I started having doubts, “he’s doing what he needs to do. There’s nothing more important than being true to yourself. To follow your calling.” I know alcoholics who tell themselves the same thing.

There is always a point in love when the qualities that first appear charming lose their magic and become insights into character. I remember wondering if his ability to back burner his dissertation and all cares of the “impermanent world” was actually beneficial. Or if his tremendous reserves of focus and energy were best used watching double features at the movie theatre three times a week. Or listening to two hours straight of the left-of-left radio show Democracy Now, and eating an entire pizza (sometimes with sausage) afterwards while railing about injustice. Was it good or Buddhist that, when we argued about intimacy problems, he could (almost magically) meditate all the anger away? That when he called me from his month long stint as a volunteer guide for a Sri Lankan monk’s journey across America, he sounded just as impassive and disembodied as he did earlier in the summer? While I struggled to pay my bills and practice yoga alone in a city where I knew no one, I thought of him enviously. How amazing, I thought, he doesn’t need a job. He doesn’t even need a girlfriend. Like a trustfunder swaddled in inheritance, my boyfriend simply needed the privilege of meditation.

The break up broke my heart, but it also broke my faith. I was shocked that our spiritual connection couldn’t save us. Worse, that it delayed my revelation that I was being strung along. The pictures of the two of us happily eating a coconut in the hammock in Mexico begged the question, if detachment was the best way to avoid pain, how would we ever have achieved this moment of love?

I wanted to consult with my ashram cousin more, but then remembered she had been celibate for two decades. Love and the spiritual path had never meshed for her either.

While I got on my feet in Chicago, the thought of him still crushed me. It was hard to see that my situation had steadily improved once the scorched desert landscape was replaced by neighborhoods and trees, The Art Institute, Lake Michigan, and, last but not least, other people. Even as I went on a friendly date with the man who is now my fiancé, I decided I must give my meditator one more chance in the best way that I knew how. I did the age old trick that I once heard from a Rabbi—write down all the qualities you desire in a mate. I took great care, actually wrote them in a letter, on nice white stationary my mother gave me, and sealed it in the tiny matching envelope. I put it in a safe place amid my strewn clothes, envelopes of bills and phone numbers of people I hoped would help me find a job. I didn’t want to read it more than once after I wrote it. I felt guilty—even like a fraud—because among the qualities I desired, “meditator” or “spiritual” were not included.

Part of my assignment from the Reverend who is marrying my fiancé and me is to write an essay about how and why we fell in love. As I detail my fiancé’s incredible qualities, I am reminded of the tiny white note card in the envelope I wrote two summers ago. Every quality I had desired in my meditator had manifested in my fiancé. He is hardworking, infinitely thoughtful, and kind. He is creative and funny. And though I will not add this in my essay, there’s one more thing: he hasn’t heard much about the Buddha.


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