“You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.” ~Thich Nhat Hahn
When you think you’re an evolved and conscious woman and your partner tells you in no unclear terms that you’re “hard to be with,” it does a number on you.
Those words landed like a well-aimed boulder, smashing the immaculate vision I’d created of evolving myself: an exemplary girlfriend who was “doing the work” to grow, to become generously loving, spiritually awake, and to wholeheartedly support and encourage her beautiful partner to open to his fullest potential.
We met under messy circumstances. Both just weeks out of intense breakups and deeply embroiled in “processing” our respective experiences, I had a laundry list of emotional baggage to shed, patterns to break, and new nonnegotiable standards for anything and anyone I’d allow into my intimate space.
I pinned the badges of Emotional Consciousness and the Evolved Feminine on my heart. I journaled, meditated, and prayed to the Goddesses: Quan Yin. Kali. Durga. Sati.
And as I learned, dove deeper, sailed higher, I held fiercely to his hand. I wanted to do this together. I begged him: join me. Rise. Dig. Excavate your stagnant places.
It’s the only way forward.
I believed it. And I think, to a certain end, so did he.
Then encouragement, collaborative growth, and tough love turned to jagged criticism. Instead of holding one another in our struggles, we sat on opposing sides of some false fence. I saw only his flaws and I believed I needed him to fix them.
I saw his potential. He was brilliant, deeply spiritual, an intuitive outdoorsman and incredible teacher. He had promise, gifts to bring to the world. I wanted him to reach for it—without fear.
And when he didn’t, when he paused to rest, when he stumbled, I saw failure. I saw an unwillingness to try. I saw a man gripped by fear, clinging to safety.
I used those words.
Why couldn’t he just work as hard as me?
It’s easy to say this now. To see where my ardent desires for his evolution—to shed the excess weight and step into his highest self—so quickly became toxic. How it clouded my vision of who he was, in the moment, without the changes I thought necessary.
Wrapped up in my own work and redefining of what it meant for me to rise, I transposed my journey onto his.
All I saw was his shining potential, his shadowed present, and the moments he wasn’t up to the challenge. When the stones the universe hurled at his foundation bested him.
And I ignored the brilliant light already standing in front of me, showing up in his wholeness, wounds and all. So he learned to try and hide it, for fear that I would criticize the tenderest parts I saw to be flawed.
Nobody is perfect.
The funny part is that I’m a coach and a yoga teacher. I write about every angle of perfectionism, I preach about loving your tender and dark parts, I read endlessly about the divinity of this eternal growing process.
Stretching is uncomfortable. Peeling off the layers hurts. It’s a messy, messy adventure, this evolution. Blah blah blah. My brain knew all that. But that’s different from living it—and dammit if I wasn’t a full-on hypocrite.
So… nobody is perfect. Right?
His imperfections became my teachers. And as I crumbled, defeated in my epic pursuit of New Age Girlfriend Perfection, he taught me what it is to hold someone you love to their highest potential, with grace, love, and honor.
Your journey is not their journey. It seems straightforward, but it requires a humble and gracious heart to resist imposing your own standards of evolution on another.
Just because you’re in love with transcendental meditation and it has blown your ego to pieces doesn’t mean your partner will find it moving in the least. And while you’re deeply questioning the meaning of “self,” the qualities of nonattachment, or the truth of your suffering, your partner might be doing battle with self-acceptance. Or body image. Or what it means to be masculine.
And that’s all perfect.
See the potential. Celebrate the present. That’s where I went wrong; I missed the second step. And he gently, kindly told me that he wasn’t feeling seen. Really seen—in his work, in his accomplishments, in the steps he’d already taken.
Spend more time celebrating the positive elements of how far your partner has already come—and then encourage them to keep going, because you see such beautiful potential and brightness within.
Let go of perfect. You know from your own excavations that the work never ends. There is always growth, always evolving, always new spiritual/emotional/soulful expanses to be explored.
When we think “highest self,” it sometimes feels like an end point—a “point a to point b” kind of goal. It’s not, and living from that mentality makes the experience of evolution feel hurried and time-sensitive.
As Osho says so simply, “Slowly, slowly.” Let that be your mantra, and honor each slow step your partner takes. Even more so, honor the pauses. The deep breaths. They’re part of the work, too.
It is not yours to push. You’re not his life coach. You’re not her personal trainer. You’re not mom. Position yourself on the same team—encouraging, supporting, celebrating, yes. Demanding? No. That creates a power dynamic that eventually becomes toxic and corrodes the integrity of your relationship.
When you find yourself becoming the teacher, check your motivations and rephrase. How can you encourage with tender and gracious love?
Your love will become freedom. You have this one role in your partner’s evolution: to hold the space, to fill it with love and safety and, simultaneously, the encouragement to expand—and your love will become their freedom.
Freedom to be exactly where they are on the path and to take the journey that is right at that moment and in that time. Freedom to fall. To screw up. And to try again, with unflinching faith in their own potential.
And that freedom, ultimately, is the only path to the highest self.
Photo by Nono Fara