I don’t have a favorite Disney princess, can count on one hand the number of close friends who are married, and up until a week ago had never seen The Notebook. (My big, jaded takeaway from it? Getting old sucks.)
But is it possible that despite my—and my feminist mother’s—best efforts, I’ve taken on a love story that isn’t exactly my own? It was this question that I spent the better part of 72 hours ruminating on earlier this summer, while attending a weekend retreat at the newly opened Maha Rose North in upstate New York.
“When it comes to romantic love in particular, we’re fed stories about how this ‘should’ look and feel from the age we first understand the concept of ‘happily ever after’—with all kinds of family and social conditioning, and life experiences layered on top,” says Ruby Warrington, founder of The Numinous and co-leader of the retreat, alongside Elyssa Jakim and Alexandra Roxo. “As a result, by the time we’re adults we’re often living out love stories that are more about what we’ve learned about love than what we truly need and desire in our relationships—entirely unconsciously.”
The answer, the trio believes, is rewriting the story. Think of it as a combination of journaling, behavioral therapy, and some heavy-duty self-reflection. (Mine might have included a good three hours spent on a hammock, revisiting old relationships—a la A Christmas Carol—as I noted down patterns in my well-worn notebook.)
“We’re often living out love stories that are more about what we’ve learned about love than what we truly need and desire in our relationships—entirely unconsciously.”
“Rewriting your love story is first claiming the one you’ve lived,” explains Roxo, a Los Angeles-based healing coach. “Maybe it’s that only unavailable people go after you. Or the story that you ‘help’ or fix others. At some point you may want to rewrite that! So first we look at the story, how it plays out and where it’s coming from, and then how to best use it in a healthy way—and/or release it.”
In other words, it’s about figuring out what your true needs and desires are (cue some major honesty with yourself)—and then preparing to fold them into your decision-making going forward. To say that I had a breakthrough that weekend would be a lie—I had multiple a-ha moments, from the no-duh realization that, as an only occasional drinker, I probably won’t find a partner at a bar to the understanding that maybe the emotional scars from an old relationship hadn’t fully healed, despite my insistence that I was just fine.
And no, it’s not only single ladies who could benefit from this practice. “I’d recommend you do this if you feel blocks in your relationships, if in relationships you feel like you give your whole self away, when you notice repetitive painful patterns, or if you’re the type of person who finds yourself saying, ‘I will never be in a relationship, I will never find love, I will never get married,'” says Jakim, a reiki master, intuitive reader, and energy healer. “A key sign that it’s a good time to do this work is that you feel like you’re getting into the same romantic situation over and over again, and it’s one that doesn’t suit what your heart wants. In my opinion, there’s no one who wouldn’t benefit from this work.”
“When you do it the feeling of freedom is so incredible. You can breathe deeper. You feel like you finally get it.”
The one thing you should have at the ready? Someone to make sure you get to the other side okay. “It’s not easy to go digging in there; that’s why I recommend doing it with someone—a healer or coach, or a group,” Roxo notes. She adds, “A lot can come up and you have to have the support to deal with it. But when you do it the feeling of freedom is so incredible. You can breathe deeper. You feel like you finally get it.”
So whether you’re reeling from a break-up or wanting to get a bit more out of your happily-ever-after situation, here are six ways to rewrite your love story.
1. Find out what your own love looks like
“What are things that make you feel love?” Jakim says. “Seeing the smile of a baby? Butterflies? Hugs? A pet? Any particular scents? Any people who just make you light up? Whenever you feel a little stirring of love in your heart, take time to be with it. Feel that vibration of love. Let it reset your heart. Let it be nourishment.”
2. Begin incorporating an act of self-love into your daily life
You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again: self-love is crucial. But what does that really mean? Jakim suggests you “incorporate one practice into your weekly routine that is just for you, that is a complete act of self-love. Maybe that’s buying yourself flowers for home or your desk. Maybe it’s taking yourself out on a fancy date once a week. Maybe it’s pampering yourself in a way you wouldn’t normally.”
The activity itself can change, but the one thing she says is crucial to this practice? “Whatever the activity you choose, it should have no ‘shoulds’ behind it. It’s nothing you ‘should’ do—only something you love to do for you. Make the commitment to do and keep doing this romantic and loving thing for yourself.”
3. Once you’re feeling good, start asking yourself questions
“There’s usually a moment when you start to see how you do the same things in every relationship. Or when you feel stuck or pissed the same things keep happening to you,” notes Roxo. As hard as it might be to be brutally honest with yourself, this is the time to dig a little deeper. “Start by questioning. Question everything about your story,” she advises. “Investigate it. Love it. Inquire. Seek. And then when you’re ready to change it, look for help!”
Whether you find a therapist, a coach, or even a friend to sort through all of this with, there are a few things you can tackle solo, says Roxo. “What you can do alone is commit to wanting to look at your shit. Your patterns. Start journaling daily, noticing things you do.”
4. Look to the stars
You might check your horoscope on the regular, but a true deep-dive into your birth chart can give you added insight into what your actual desires are (rather than what you think you should want). Warrington recommends an “astrology reading to focus on the ‘love’ aspects—houses, planets, signs—of your chart.”
In particular, check out where Venus (how and what we love), Mars (what drives us), Neptune (our imagination), Pluto (our personal power), and the Moon (our emotions, needs, and subconscious desires) fall. Also important are the third, fifth, seventh, eighth, and 12th houses—which can help you sort through everything from what your version of dating might look like to how you handle jealousy.
5. Visualize the love you deserve to have
“One of my favorite tools is a guided meditation to connect to the energy of your soulmate—whether you’re single or attached, this exercise is really juicy and lovely,” says Jakim. She suggests setting up your room with “anything that makes you feel luxurious” (from candles to the new Angel Olsen album). “Lie down in bed and begin a gentle, calming breathing. Allow yourself to visualize being somewhere completely beautiful; somewhere that’s wholly your own. Rest and enjoy this experience,” she says.
“When you feel ready, you can imagine that your soulmate, your partner, your person, whatever you choose to call it, is standing in front of you. Do they have something to tell you or say? Do you feel a loving warmth surrounding you? Allow yourself to be hugged and held in the energy of your beloved. Allow yourself to rest in the arms of your beloved, feeling loved for everything you are, knowing that you are worthy of unconditional love and kindness and rest here for as long as you like,” she adds.
According to Jakim, “This exercise can be really helpful for singles resetting standards of what a partner will be like and the love you deserve. If you’re in a relationship, this can be your current partner and it will deepen your connection. It also brings so much sweetness and gentleness in, and that’s something many of us are missing.” (If you need a little more hand-holding on this step, Jakim has a free guided meditation.)
6. Verbalize your needs
You’ve sorted through your history and your habits, have come up with a list of things you truly want out of your relationships, and are ready to rewrite that love story. Where to start? Vocalize those desires. “Practice telling people what you truly need, no apologies, in all areas of your life,” says Warrington.
That can be everyone from the barista who puts a little too much foam on your almond milk latte to the guy who seems to think you’re cool with late-night booty texts (or the guy who is already planning a couples vacation, when you’re looking for a low-commitment relationship).
Spoiler alert: You might not get everything you want right away, but you’ll be cutting out the things you know that you definitely don’t want. Besides, sometimes a surprise ending is the best part of a story anyway.
Does your vision of romantic happiness not include drunken hook-ups? Here’s how to date while sober (yes, it’s possible). And according to science, “emotional fluency” is a super-important trait for your partner to have.