“My experience is that the teachers we need most are the people we’re living with right now.” ~Byron Katie

A couple of years ago, I was introduced to the idea that relationships are a kind of spiritual practice, fostering transformation and personal evolution in us as individuals, and that we are brought into each other’s lives for exactly this purpose.

This concept applies to all relationships – with friends, family, coworkers, etc. – but is especially powerful when applied to your relationship with romantic partners, as the level of intimacy here is compounded by chemistry and physicality and biological triggers of attraction and sexual desire.

This stuff gets super intense sometimes, you guys.

When I was first urged to start looking at my dating life differently – namely, to begin seeing each of my dates as spiritual teachers – I was skeptical and resistant and might have actually laughed out loud.

I mean, I have been on some bad dates in my day. Really bad dates.

I’ve been actively dating for half my life now and have been involved in relationships of exclusivity for less than four of those sixteen glorious (and awful and hilarious and heartbreaking and heart-opening and disheartening and fabulous) years.

Which means I have dated a lot of men. And I have seen some things.

The guy who scoffed at buying me a $7 sandwich on one of our first dates? Or the guy who broke up with me over email on my birthday? Or the guy(s) who told me they thought dating me might get in the way of their need to consume copious amounts of alcohol on a regular basis?

These are my spiritual teachers???

I think you can see why I was so hesitant to accept this idea.

And, yet, I now see that, yes, all of those men – and every other man I’ve ever dated – has absolutely been essential to my growth and evolution as a person and as a woman and as a healer in my profession.

If there’s one thing dating has taught me that has completely changed my life, it is the power of speaking my own truth.

Which is really effing hard sometimes and caused me intense anxiety the first few times I did it, but gets easier and easier every time I practice expressing myself in this way.

When I first started speaking my truth to the men I dated, I think I expected that doing so would always produce my desired result. That I would tell some guy how I was feeling about something and his response would match up with exactly what I’d hoped he would say. Or that I would ask for something specific in a relationship because my truth was that I desired that thing – more time together, less time together, better communication, more physical affection, less drinking on his part, more spontaneous trips to the mountains – and that he would happily oblige me because, hey, I’d had the courage to tell him how I was feeling.

I’ve learned, however, that speaking your truth does not guarantee you’re going to like someone else’s response or get exactly what you want – at least not right away. That’s just not how these things work.

I’ve learned that in relationships – especially if they’re the wrong relationships – speaking your truth can often lead to the end of the relationship. And that it will often call on you to be strong and to honor yourself and to say no thanks when the relationship you’re in doesn’t resonate with that truth.

Over the past twelve months, I’ve had several opportunities to practice this, and I will fully admit that – all spiritual growth and personal evolution aside – sometimes it JUST REALLY SUCKS.

And sometimes, you’ll have to choose between ignoring your truth to stay in a situation with someone you adore and walking away from that person because your truth – your Self – is too important to abandon for the sake of a relationship that doesn’t serve or uplift or fulfill you.

Because sometimes, the wrong thing shows up looking an awful lot like the right thing – or the thing you think you want. (You know, broad shoulders, tattoos, looks great in a pair of levis. What? It can’t be just me, right?)

My favorite lesson through all of this? Don’t be afraid to be the one who cares more.

Seriously. Let yourself care. Choose to care.

I spent the first fifteen years of my dating life trying as hard as I could to be the one who cared less – or, at least, the one who pretended to care less. Which, truth be told, is not fun at all. Surprisingly, it’s even less fun than having your heart broken because at least when your heart hurts you’re feeling something.

And, in my experience, this is better than apathy. WAY better. It means you took a risk, and were fearless and bold and achingly human.

And this kind of courage is rad.

Once I started to get real with my truth, I found out that I’m someone who cares a lot. And oftentimes, I’m the person who cares more. Which used to feel like a weakness, but now just seems kind of brave, honestly.

Because as much as we want to pretend that it’s not, caring is cool. And even when your affections aren’t returned by the person you adore or there are too many red flags slapping you across the face or your timing is just effing terrible, caring breaks you open in a really beautiful way.

So, I urge you to speak your truth, to own how much you care regardless of how anyone else feels, and then to run the other direction if you’re being offered crumbs in exchange for your affections.

Speaking your truth doesn’t guarantee good times and perfect endings and immediate fulfillment of all your desires. But it does make you an emotional badass.

Which is a pretty awesome thing to be.

And I don’t know if telling the Universe no this many times will ever get me to a yes. But I’m certainly not finished trying to find out. Because my soul still has some growing to do and I’m confident there are a few more spiritual teachers out there with all sorts of lessons for me to learn.

Or relearn, as the case may be.

As the case often is.

Here’s to emotional badassery and truth-telling and caring like it’s your job. Because, if you ask me, it kind of is.