The year I started dating god with a lowercase g

February 6 2018 | arielmstallings
This photo is actually a threesome between me, god, and my stupid Brooklinen sheets that I love deeply.

Last year I started dating god.

This sounds insane in maybe 10 different ways, especially for ME to say, since for most of my life, my spirituality boiled down to don't know, don't care! … but it's probably the most accurate description of what happened for me this past year. Of course I'm talking about "god" lower case non-denominational, so maybe it's a little less surprising than if the story here was "Offbeat Bride lady raised by hippies goes evangelical," but still.

I was listening to an Esther Perel interview where she talked about how what we expect from marriage has changed so much in the past century, and she mentioned in passing that even in partnerships, people used to prioritize their relationships with god. I guess it makes sense: we moved out of the era of marriages as arranged business relationships, into an era of marriage as a romantic expression… and that happened sorta along the same timeline as the secularization of America, and so is it really any wonder that I was an apathetic agnostic who worshipped at the altar of my marriage?

When a friend asked me summer of 2015 what I was the most afraid of in the world, all I could think of was "my marriage ending." My marriage was everything to me: home, work, social, psychological, financial, sexual, romantic, and spiritual (in that, as much as I had faith in anything, I had faith in my marriage). I mean, my life was rich and full of other stuff too — but my marriage was the foundation on which everything was built.

This isn't especially abnormal, but it helps explain why, when my marriage ended, I went through a complete existential crisis so profound that my nervous system couldn't keep up. (I mean UG, I know I'm not the only person to have a traumatic response to a divorce, and then deal with physical PTSD symptoms for the first year, but I still wrestle with being embarrassed by my reaction. So sheltered! So few coping mechanisms! So weak!)

As I've slowly stumbled through my own recovery process, I've assembled bits and pieces of practice and comfort into systems that keep me feeling sane and safe and grounded. Last year, the piece of that system that's made itself most clear was my spiritual practice. Using both attachment theory and mindfulness, I've learned to emotionally anchor myself to my spiritual practice.

It's not an especially complex system: basically, I find little ways every day to physically sense the divine that's in everyone and everything.

I sit quietly for 15 minutes a day as one way to do it, but I also do it through dance, walking, crying, sex, in-the-moment awareness, parenting, and where-ever else I can be conscious enough to be aware of where I actually am and what's actually happening. Basically, I anchor to my inner sense of the divine. Basically, I let go and let god. Basically, I sound like a born-again, but without the religious stuff? It's confusing for me. In some ways, I drank the Buddhist Modernism kool-aid which includes typically kool-aid-y flavors like "don't think about it too much" and "if it's working, then don't question it too much" etc. I think it's a better kool-aid, but it's still kool-aid?

I guess that's a form of self-awareness: this is kool-aid but whatever: it's kool-aid that's keeping me sane, and helping me be a better person by most standards (less anxiety, more compassion, more awareness of interconnectivity).

Then there's this self awareness: Another way of phrasing this shift is that I'm as polyamorous as ever (did you catch the part where my marriage was open the whole time?), but my primary relationship is with god.

This doesn't mean I don't seek connection with people — because I do. Lots of people. I am an extrovert and a glutton for people. But this shift does starkly change the way I relate to the romantic/sexual potentialities in my life. They don't need to be my everything… or even my most things.

There's a reduction of pressure, because now I try to stabilize myself off of the present moment, instead of the present person. This gives me some compassion for my face-plant of a first relationship after my divorce. (How could we not both be terribly disappointed in each other? I mean, we were both interesting and super intense people, but both of us are pretty disappointing compared to god.)

There's also an elevation in standards. When I don't need someone to fill an existential / spiritual gap, I'm clearer-headed about what people energies are best for me to mix with, and what my motivations are when something dark feels oddly compelling.

I get that this is getting a little ephemeral. I don't mean to make this sound like I'm now floating in some celestial spirit bubble of transcended woo-woo… most of my life is motivated by connections with other people, and my favorite moments are intimate ones where I get to be super present with beloveds.

It's just that now I understand not to get lost in the specific situation… the key for my sanity is awareness and sharing presence in the moment with my favorite people. I understand now that the specific situation (who's there, what we're doing) is all just different conditions of finding the same sense of presence. If I'm paying attention, where ever I go, there's a sense of the divine with me… it makes it easier not to get as anxiously attached to the people in my life. People appear, and if I'm really present in the moment, it feels divine. People are lost, and if I'm really present in that moment too, it feels divine too. If you attach to the presence instead of the specifics, it's all just breath and the moment and energetic vibrations and ok, I'm definitely getting deep in the woo here, but maybe it makes sense to you.

Right now, I most love those moments dense and complex and intense and super-charged and full of beauty and sweetness with dark twists and turns and narrative arcs that make you clutch your pearls and lean forward in your chair. Ultimately though, I am a lover of efficiency, so I'm betting that things will get increasingly efficient until I'm at a place where I can get the same sense of contentment from feeling my feet in my socks as I do now from some of the more complex interpersonal situations I get myself tangled up in.

"When I talk to my friends who have kids your age," my dad told me, "Everyone's struggling."

And I know he's right. Not just us aging Gen Xer 40somethings wobbling through our midlife crisis points (or desperately avoiding them), but our Millexial younger siblings coming up behind us who are just starting to see how deep the cracks go, and then the irate and horrified younger 20somethings crushed by student loans and chronic anxiety and systematic racism, and who am I kidding: it's really the whole country. We're all just freaking the fuck out. These are culturally difficult times.

For me, the only thing that helps is wiggling my toes and feeling the inside of my skin and remembering that we're all gonna die. It could be ten times worse tomorrow. It will never be like this again, thank fucking god / fucking tragic. All there is to do is look away from the screen, take a breath, and find the awareness of being in this present moment, in all its heartwrenching, beautiful, horrific, amazing glory.

Then I usually start crying, and that's ok too.

  1. I'm just starting my journey of…prioritizing something bigger than myself as a way to stay calm and kind? Do you have books to recommend?

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  2. Wow.

    How did you know that you were connecting with god / something bigger? Was it something you could physically feel? Did you have to believe in it in before you could experience it? I'm not sure I'm asking the right questions, but I am very interested in this process.

    As an aside, I ditched my phone for an entire day on Saturday and it felt amazing.

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    • For me, the awareness was a physical sensation that emerged first during a violent panic attack (thankfully my first and last), then again from a reiki treatment, then later when an opera singer spanked me. (…I know. It's a long story.)

      Once I had a few intense surprising introductions to the sensation of being fully present, I started practicing to do it consciously on my own. Now, if I take a breath and pay attention, I can almost always access it, even if only fleetingly. Meditation definitely helps… I'm a busy, loud, anxious, perpetually-moving kind of person, so it takes a lot of effort for me to sit quietly and just be in the present moment and listen. But the effort is worth it!

      For me, I did not have to believe in anything. I mean, did I believe in a fucking opera singer? I did not. I'm generally a skeptic, so my attitude has always been "I don't understand WHAT this is or WHY this is or if I even believe THAT it is, but somethings happening…" I still identify as an agnostic — I have no idea what's going on. All I know is that when I get really quiet and get present, SOMETHING is going on and I feel better than I did when I wasn't able to access it.

      It's a total mystery to me, honestly. I have no definitive answers.

      PS: Congrats on a day unplugged! I think I went like 15 minutes the other day. :/

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  3. "There's a reduction of pressure, because now I try to stabilize myself off of the present moment, instead of the present person. "

    THIS THIS THIS. I don't know how to do it yet but you put into words what I realize I have been trying to do since my separation. I'm a serial monogamist who's never lived alone until now and this whole finding me and finding presence and finding god has been challenging not leastly (I'm pretending thats a word) because I don't know what to call it or how to do it. Thank you for sharing your journey (blech that's cliche). Please keep sharing. And please find a publisher for your book or just self publish!

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    • Yeah, the big aha for me was when, after feel jacked around by relationships, I felt like I needed something, ANYTHING that I could really truly count on and I was like… you know who's always there for me when I'm freaking out? MEDITATION. You know who always texts me back? MEDITATION. You know what always makes me feel a little better than I did before? MEDITATION.

      Then I was like… holy shit, I think I just formed a secure attachment with my own meditation practice.

      And THEN I was like, wait does this make me like a nun who gets married to God? I'm not Christian, nor am I monogamous, so the comparison isn't quite accurate… but it was still a shock to recognize that it was essentially the same thing.

      Then I saw some rando's online dating profile, where he was like "I don't want to be anyone's primary partner — you should have someone else (and yes, The Universe counts)." And I was like "Ohhhhh."

      For me, my marriage was that primary anchor for almost 20 years. Now, I'm working to shift myself so that my primary anchor is spiritual, so that my partnerships can be less fraught with existential fear and angst and pressure for the relationship the the thing that makes everything feel ok. Because relationships come and go. People come and go. Life comes and goes. Basically, all I've got is my conscious awareness in the present moment… and it turns out that's actually a lot?

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  4. I love reading this and that it feels like we are so very similar in our travels along whatever it is that is happening. Gosh, when I got divorced, in addition to becoming suicidal and quitting all basic care of myself, my uterus grew fibroids and I got strep vagina (yep, it’s a thing). My body literally cock blocked me out of using casual sex to get through it. But I crashed so hard because I was relying on him and our marriage to be my everything, including where I put all my faith and proof that I mattered.

    A lot of what you are saying is why I figured out that I like AA and step work. People get caught in the old white guy semantics of it, but if you use words that resonate for your personal needs, “the program” can be very Buddhist/existential/woo-woo/whatever you need it to be. It’s helped me learn to have faith in things I don’t really understand and to be free of codependency. And it’s given me community, which is so important to thriving and being human. And in tandem, I found meditation and a love for yoga and my voice.

    Anyway, we are all just trying to make our bodies and minds and souls make sense together as a unit, right? I am still figuring it out, but removing my distaste for spirituality and finding out that I like believing in something bigger has propelled me pretty far.

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  5. I'm really loving these posts you've been making Ariel. While I'm on kind of the opposite end of the spectrum, in my mid 20's, first year of marriage, and expecting my first child, I've found a lot of what you've been talking about has really been resonating with me. I've spent so much of my life from complete isolation of my peers or in an extremely codependent relationship and weirdly enough it took getting pregnant to have an "oh shit. I should probably develop something outside of my relationship with my husband and soon to be child" but really stumbling around trying to figure it out. I've never lived alone, and in fact have rarely had so much time alone as I do now, that its kind of daunting to not constantly have whatever I'm doing revolve around someone else. So seeing how someone else goes through it and what they use as a jumping off point has been really helpful for my own questioning and fumbling around. Thank you.

  6. Thank you for having the courage to live this, Ariel. To go forth without preconceived notions and find what works for you, and report back. Spirituality does not have be be what we've been told.

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