Feeling Love Outside of a Relationship

“There is no Love greater than Love with no object. For then you, yourself, have become love, itself.” ~Rumi

I have spent most of my life as a professional, half of that in Asia: managing a division of a company, doing long-term meditation retreats, and establishing cottage industries for impoverished refugees.

A long-term relationship was impossible since Asian men marry Asian women; European men had European wives and Asian lovers.

Along the way I thought I could give more value to the world by remaining single than being married with children.

I met a woman working at the UN who had raised a family. She suggested another scenario: there is a man who would love to join me in this endeavor.

We could raise children who also want to make a difference, thus making a bigger difference. I just had to find him.

She introduced me to a man who did want to make a difference while living in remote areas—exactly what I enjoyed. However, he wanted a wife to live in a city to raise his children, someone of the same ethnicity.

When I returned in 1998 to live in the US after 18 years in Asia, I experienced reverse culture shock. How people lived their lives (working non-stop at a job they did not like), what their priorities were (money, stuff, and power) and especially how they related to each other (networking to sell stuff, or to find a better job), was antithetical to my way of life.

Eventually I met more spiritually based individuals. Their way of life was to trust in Spirit. So when I thought it might be time for a compatible relationship I listened to their suggestion: trust in Spirit, let Spirit bring him to you.

Living in a small town, I did not meet any men with similar altruistic goals. I looked at guys’ photos on a dating website. When I found face and personal statement that made me feel comfortable, I wrote him. Not one replied.

Out of the blue, someone wrote me. I remembered: trust in Spirit. His statement had a spiritual nature, he was well educated, successful, attentive, and generous; trust in Spirit.

Yet I discovered he didn’t really listen. He finagled to get money, where I was scrupulously honest. As time unveiled more incompatibility, I still trusted in Spirit.

Half a year later I found out he used my computer to send identical notes daily to dozens of women on the dating website, slept with half of those who responded, while maintaining what appeared to be a monogamous relationship with me. Trust in Spirit.

In the end he tried to ruin my profession, stalked me, and sued me five times in an attempt to get my house. I was the third girlfriend he sued; the first to stand up. Each of his lawsuits was dismissed. He was a serial predator. Trust in Spirit.

After a long period of self-reflection, I thought that I would feel happier in a dedicated relationship. I had learned about intentions and affirmations. After diligently writing my ideal scene, I tried the dating website again.

I eventually connected with a man whose statement was harmonious with mine. We started slowly and over a year built a caring relationship. I utilized what I’d learned in relationship workshops, private counseling with a spiritual psychologist, and books regarding being an adult in spirit-based relationships.

Yet, one year later, the day after I rented my house and moved in his at his request, it all blew up.

He believed that I was spiritual enough for the both of us so he didn’t have to be. His reaction to a misunderstanding was: “You can’t change enough to make me love you. You are a good person and have most of the great qualities I want in a woman, but you are missing a few. We can only be friends until I find that perfect woman.”

I moved out that moment.

Looking back, I see that I ignored intuitive misgivings, listening instead to beliefs that worked for friends.

It was a bit like believing in Santa Claus (because he was generous and kindhearted), while all along it was an illusion (albeit a pleasant one).

The friends who offered advice have loving long-term relationships. They work out misunderstandings a big-hearted way. Both partners help others. I rejoice in their happiness and love.

Yet, it hasn’t been so in my life. I have stopped wondering or caring why. Seven years ago after the last relationship ended in such a hurtful manner, I gave up looking.

Instead, love has found me. It arose from within. This love without object is tenderly nurtured so that it is now the glowing ember supporting my life.

Whenever this love is present, love is all around; it is no longer something coming from another person of any gender.

There are moments when I sense this presence that has no words to describe. It is not dependent on any other being, not even nature. It is complete, and needs no other to complete it.

It seems like life force itself. In those moments love is everywhere.

When those moments end, life is normal. Even after being in that warm bath of compassion, sometimes life is difficult. Sometimes I lose heart. And sometimes that glowing ember gets stronger and love is again ever present.

It is completely different from the love that is shared between two people which is often conditional and temporary. It is vastly different from the love that is projected onto someone we believe may be a partner.

There isn’t the intensity; it is more like gentle sunshine on a calm, quiet, warm day, when, without thought, you lift your face to the sun.

I have sensed it in other moments, when in the presence of wonderful Tibetan lamas. Thoughts slow, and a warm sensation begins in the heart that imperceptibly permeates one’s whole being. Eyes soften, the face melts, and body sensations almost disappear. It lasts for hours, sometimes days.

I have felt it around other people who are not famous cultivators of compassion. Simple people. Simpler than me. It doesn’t depend on witnessing kind actions. It just is there in their presence.

Having sought the emotion and other side effects that were believed to be love, I prefer the gentler, all pervasive presence of what seems to be love.

I am not saying there is only one kind of love, this love all around. Nor am I saying that other kinds of love are not enjoyable.

Some of us don’t find that one special love, soul mate, prince charming. Many keep trying and it just doesn’t happen.

There is another love that is complete, doesn’t depend on anyone, and everyone can experience it. Please don’t lose heart. Let it find you.

How do we open up to this kind of love? My favorite practices are the Buddhist practices Metta and Tonglen, spiced with the American Indian practice of walking in another’s moccasins.

Metta (loving-kindness) develops a deep sense of peace, happiness, health, and equanimity. When we foster it, we can then wish for our friends, families, and even strangers to experience the same. We can wish for that same sense of happiness for those to whom we feel anger, resentment, and irritation and for those who treat us with disdain.

Tonglen is taking on the suffering of others as our own, and giving them our peace, happiness, wellness, and equanimity. It is not a practice for the feint-hearted, but when it becomes familiar, these thoughts arise more frequently in difficult situations. They replace judging, criticism, blame and self-cherishing.

By walking in another’s moccasins, when someone’s actions upset us, we can see life as they see it.

When we ask about their lives, their hurts, and their difficulties, compassionate understanding and empathy arise.

This can help us develop the wisdom to see each person we meet as a fellow human being who like us, can be confused, greedy, angry, or have negative emotions we haven’t even experienced. We see that person has wisdom we have not yet developed; see that person as a human who wants happiness just as we do, and doesn’t want pain.

Each and all these practices can develop a warm heart over time. Perhaps they are the kindling for love all around.

Photo by AlicePopkorn

About linnaea bohn

As a massage therapist & craniosacral therapist in Ventura County CA, linnaea shares love-all-around with clients, helping them to release at a deeper level, to access causes of discomfort & ill health, to return to their natural state of balance. Enjoy a sense of this peace at her website:

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  • Linnaea, It’s nice to know that as I begin another day, the love that Rumi speaks of, the love that requires nothing, is mine to embrace. The “calm, quiet and warmth” come to me through your words. Thank you.
    I am reminded that when I seek love to fulfill my desires, it is never enough. When I share my love for the benefit of others, it is never enough. 

    It is on the rare sunny day when love becomes truly unconditional that life embraces me.

    Funny how that works. Thank you again.

  • That was beautiful linnaea. Thank-you.

    I practice the selfless (relationshipless) love that you speak of, but when I came to your paragraph on Metta (loving-kindness) I realized I haven’t developed that toward myself – being kind to myself (coming from tough-guy conditioning). Thank-you again for this.



  • Deb

    Thank you so very much! You have put beautiful, graceful words to that which I have suspected, known, but never was able to do so for myself. I shall keep them, and cherish them. I will reread them when I forget!

  • Tatiana25

    Hi Linnaea!
    It is so good to read your post… just today was one of those roughs days I have when I feel sad or disappointed for not being in a relationship…

    We all want to find our soulmate…. but as you said it is not just that easy for some of us.. 

    Thank you for reminding me that we can have and give love without neccesarely being in a relationship.

    Anyways, I think that you, I and the others thousands of people that just have not found love yet, will have the opportunity to find our soulmate in this or in another life! 🙂

    Huge hug from Colombia!

  • Renee

    great post, thanks

  • Make that 2 hugs from Colombia. 😀

  • Redhen45

    Love and light to you, linnaea.  Thank you for the timely reminders on the importance and power of self love, Metta and Tonglen…The Universe provides endless opportunities for us to hone our skills in these practices ( sometimes not so welcome ones…but opportunities, nonetheless). 

  • wade lowe

    Dear Linnaea ,
    Mark Twain said (My words may not be exact) “You can pick up a stray , hungry dog and  feed him and make him prosperous and he won’t bite you and that is the principal difference between a man and a dog” . Look around for a friendly guy who is kind to his dog and to people who can do nothing for him . I hope the search will pay off . I was lucky enough to have 49 years with the same woman ——-WONDERFUL ! ! !              Wade

  • Marjorie

    This is the most touching and uplifting text I have read in a long time. Thank you!

  • Alice this is BEAUTIFUL! And so unlike things we see most often regarding Love. Namaste my friend!!!! 

  • Linnaeab

    beautifully expressed.
    so many ways to experience this unconditional love, each one another facet of a gemstone.
    thank you.

  • Linnaeab

    such an awareness opening right now. Wonderful.
    being kind to ourself, being loving to ourself, taking care of ourself (first) … all seem part of another culture, another world.
    Tough it up, suck it up, keep a stiff upper lip. Whatever the generation, each has it’s expression of resisting and pushing away warm-hearted self-care. 
    A gentle vigilence of self-criticism & judgments (unfortunately integrated by entrainment with negatively patterned minds) is a moment-by-moment practice.

    May I be happy, May I be at peace, May I feel equanimity. May I be comfortable are soothing thoughts to wash away each unkind thought as it arises.

    your comment is encouraging.

  • Linnaeab

    glad this touched your heart.
    may this lead to your own awakening to whatever love makes you feel happy just as you are, comfortable just as you are, full of love, just as you are.

  • Linnaeab

    Is the disappointment from not being in a relationship … or is the sadness from not experiencing love right at this moment when you are thinking about it?

    Even in relationship, any relationship (friend, mother, lover, husband), there may or may not be that deep love it seems you long for.

    This other kind of love is always there, though we may not always be aware of its presence. Those moments when it is sensed in any one of a miriad of ways are so full that the love overflows.

    In cultivating this love, whatever it is for each of us, we need not search for what movies, books tell us are love.These examples are conditional, limited love. The other is limitless, boundaryless.

    Perhaps after feeling the love without object, a very different soulmate will appear for you, or maybe not. Yet, love will have been found, a love will not divorce you, ever.

  • Linnaeab

    and two hugs back to each of you.

  • Linnaeab

    my pleasure, thanks for reading it, and sharing with me that it made a difference.

  • Linnaeab

    very wisely said .. and beautifully. It sometimes seems as if life is practice.

  • Linnaeab

    thank you for appreciating the beauty. Ii arises naturally out of the expereince of this love without object.
    thank you for reading something that is (as you say), so unlike what is written or seen on TV, movies, news, and in many books.
    I hope that as more people experience whatever is this love-all-around for them, that they wil share it so more of us can glimpse their special view of limitless love.

  • Linnaeab

    lovely wit .. that mark twain.

    Glad you found your “stray dog” in the form of a lovely woamn, and you have   continued to be lovely for each other for 49 years! BRAVO!!

    I have rescued a few dogs … BIG ones, with HUGE hearts .. that ARE this love I wrote about. Lucky me to share my life with an 11 yr and a 7 yr old great pyrenees, and two golden retrievers … each one abandonned for some silly reason. All I feel is their warmth and loyalty, and they respond gently to the care, fun and other ways we share this special love.

  • Linnaeab


    this is why I wrote the piece. so happy it touched you this way.

  • Monica S

    This made my day.  I spent two years of my childhood in Hong Kong and I had culture shock coming back to the US.  I’m still adjusting to it over 30 years later.  I too am single unable to find that spiritual partner and your piece really pushed some positive buttons in me.

    Thank you so much.  

  • Linnaeab

    we have some similar experiences.
    It is a wonderful time to enjoy the spiritual relationship with yourself, however that arises and unfolds …. however it feels comfortable for you. Enjoy the freedom just to be!

  • Linnaeab

    “friendly, kind to dogs and to people who can do nothing for him.” probably a good start if I were needing a relationship.
    And looking in the mirror I see such a person, and more. There is no need to look outside.
    Not searching, not seeking.
    Happy right here in my own skin, with a lovely sense of limitless love surrounding all of us.
    And, as described below ….  four big loves.

    Sounds to me as if we are both happy with our very different lives, both filled with love.

  • David

    This is very well put, and very timely, as I have just had my heart broken again – we are still very good friends, as the connection is strong – but the timing, which has always been the problem (except when I was in an abusive marriage – she painted herself as very spiritual). I have many friends, some of whom I love dearly, and family, but it has always been the romantic love that has been our of reach. So I take your article to heart. Thank you. Peace & Light.

  • Dmfosteresq

    Yes. Yes. Yes. I too searched for the soulmate I was meant to be with… To no avail. It took me many years to realize there was nothing lacking. I was already complete, whole and perfect, whether I had a partner or not. There is beauty in every state of being. Some feel bad for me or question why I don’t have a mate, thinking that if I did I would find happiness. They have never woken up in the morning with the exquisite feeling that the whole day is completely your own. There are challenges to be sure, but if this is my path, I gratefully walk it!

  • One lesson I learned about romantic love is that I can’t rely on the other to be perfect and complete. I myself am not perfect and complete and it would be diminishing myself to think that another is superior to me. Instead, I’ve adapted to the imperfections of my lover. 

    As a practical example: My lover doesn’t share some of the same interests as me. I am an avid reader and he has not read a book since we began dating (a couple years ago). Instead of holding that against him or thinking less of him, I’ve cultivated friendships that enrich my reading life.

    Same applies to my musical fanaticism. 

    And I’ve explained it to him. He’s not exactly like me, and shouldn’t be. But he can’t be hurt if I find enrichment in others because I need to. 

    So far, it’s working out. 🙂

  • Linnaeab

    glad you found a way to work with your relationship. None of us are perfect. None of us are the same.

    It is a rare quality to see people just as they are, accept them as just they are, each moment. It is even rarer to accept every part of ourself just as we are, to still the ruminating voice within, and to just experience life as it is, without the mind interpreting and distorting.

    Personally I find that nurturing this quality is a life-long process, and experiencing love all around supports it’s gentle cultivation, The gentle choices that I make each time the old voice whispers non-acceptance in my mind’s ear brings a greater openess to love, the love that surrounds all of everything.

  • Linnaeab

    so beautifully expressed.
    so full of heart.
    I feel your happiness.

  • Linnaeab

    may you be happy David.
    May you find that inner joy that depends on no one, on nothing, but arises out of your own heart and feels the love that is always there.
    There: in our own hearts.
    There: all around us.
    May you be deeply content and happy.

  • mits

    i live under constant fear of lifelong loneliness….. it is very difficult to see your world come crashing down…..I wish i could get over this constant neediness!!

  • Linnaeab

    HI Mits,

    Yes, experienceing the world as you are now is difficult. However it is not permanent. Reflecting back there are probably moments in your life where there wasn’t fear, where there was a give and take of communication and care with someone or some loving creature like a cat or dog.

    Breath by breath the fear can be transformed and in doing so, the world slowly appears less difficult, more neutral and finally pleasant.

    Try the Metta practice. Breath and with each breath wish for happiness for yourself, for peace, for health.

    Another good inspriation is Pema Chodron’s book: The Places that Scare You.  Or if that is too much right now, try her book: Start Where You Are. Your local library may have them, or you can get a used one on amazon.

    all the best, linnaea

  • mits

    Hi Linnaea,

    m very happy to hear from you…. sometimes it is easier to open ur heart to someone u barely know… please help me understand that often i hear and read people talkin about self-love… love emanating from ur own being which is so complete that u dont feel the need to depend on someone outside urself…. how does one get there????

    Thanks fr da recommendation  i ve ordered both 🙂

  • Hi Linnaea
    I was really touched by your story.  I can also relate to it.  My love life has been a roller coaster over the years. I have spent far too long trying to bend myself into what a particular partner wanted.  I don’t do that any more.  I have found the love for myself that was missing.  I don’t need anyone to complete me, I am whole and happy and pursuing my passions instead of someone else’s. Often we put too much emphasis on getting love from outside ourselves, basically relying on it from someone else and when they take that love away we feel like an empty shell until the next person comes along and fills that lonely spot. Instead we need to have that light, joy and love in ourselves and then if someone comes along that complements what is already there we can then invest in finding out where the path leads together.
    Again thank you for sharing your story.  I wish you all the best for the future.

  • Linnaeab

    HI Thea,
    How fortunate you are to experience the joy and love within yourself. It is always there, even when we may not feel it in any specific moment. Whatever you went through in life to uncover this real love was worth it, wasn’t it?!

  • Jdecandia

    This is exactly where I am in life, learning not to base my own happiness on conditional human love

  • Linnaeab

    HI Mits,

    The love I experience is not self love. It is just pure love … not love of the self. Love of the self exists, and is good to feel as well.

    This is love without any object .. no human, no thing, no pet.

    In the article published by TIny Budha I briefly described three practices that I think helped me develop the awareness of this love.

    If any of them sound of interest, google the name of the practice to get a better description of how to do it.  Pema Chodron’s website may have descriptions of Metta and Tonglen that are detailed enough to practice. Thich Nhat Hanh has published many books, and most of them have Metta practice in them. He probably has a website as well.

    May you be happy.


  • M_dryburgh

    Thankyou for this gift.
    I am a 24 year old woman just four days after my third serious relationship ended, not by my choosing, again.
    I feel fear that I will never have a husband or children. But reading your story made me realise that fate isn’t to be feared, but embraced. My life will always be that, mine, and that is a gift to cherish.

  • Tiffany Dyson