Spiritual Friends

Is spirituality the best thing that can happen to your mate? Think again. Mariana Caplan on the unfortunate truths of spiritual boyfriends.

Mariana Caplan

The following is an excerpt from her essay, “Adventures of a New Age Traveler.”

A few years ago, I began to attract a new breed of men that over time I came to call Zen boyfriends. I use the term Zen loosely here because a man doesn’t have to be a Zen Buddhist to fall into this category. He could be a Tibetan Buddhist, a Sufi, or even a practitioner of some obscure brand of yoga. The more rigid the tradition, the better for this type. What defines a Zen boyfriend is the manner in which he skillfully uses spiritual ideals and practices as an excuse for his terror of, and refusal to be in, any type of real relationship with a woman. He is both too identified with his balls to become a celibate monk and, at the same time, too little identified with the wider implications of them to take responsibility for them. The result: a righteous, distant, and very intelligent substitute for a real man.

Andrew was a great example of a Zen boyfriend. He was tall, bright, charming, and strikingly attractive. He was creative, well-versed in spiritual scriptures, a great chef, and exceptionally funny—but he couldn’t give in to a woman if his life depended on it.

This is how a typical morning went for Andrew and me:

At 4:30 a.m., his alarm sounds (not a simple ring or buzz, but the schizophrenic chirping bird type of alarm). “Andrew, your alarm is going off.”

“Press the snooze.”

I oblige. Then at 4:38 it goes off again. “Andrew, get up!”

“I’m too tired.”

By the fourth snooze I was wide awake, while he dozed away like a baby in arms. When he’d finally open his eyes sometime around 5:30, I was undeniably and unspiritually pissed off. Without even a word or a glance in my direction, he would roll out of bed and head for the bathroom. I would listen with mounting rage as he gargled his Chinese herbs, did an hour of T’ai Chi on the creaky hardwood floor, and then adjusted himself on his zafu to meditate. Often I would get up and meditate as well, but since I didn’t practice the same form of meditation as he did, he said we couldn’t practice together. Finally, just before 8—approximately three and a half hours after the alarm had first sounded—he would come in and tell me he was making breakfast. Yippee. During breakfast his rule was silence so he could read the paper over organic oats and mint tea, both without sugar.

The argument was always the same:

“Why do you set your alarm if you’re not going to get up?”

“It’s important to hold the intention to get up early. The energy for meditation is strongest between three and five in the morning.”

“If it’s so strong, then why don’t you just do it?”

And then:

“Andrew, it would make a big difference to me if you would at least say 'good morning' when you get up.”

“I want my meditation to be consistent with the delta waves that are activated during sleep, and speech interferes with this.”

“Even two words, 'good' and 'morning'?!”

“Yes, even two words.”

“How about a hug then?”

“Same thing.”

“Then why doesn’t cold water on your face or flushing the toilet screw up the delta waves?”

“I need space. Conversation closed.”

Men need space. All women know this. But some men need two parts space for one part intimacy, or even ten parts space for one part intimacy. But with Andrew, and other Zen boyfriends, it is more like ninety-eight parts space to two parts intimacy. What they really want to be in a relationship with is a stone goddess, not a woman.

It was a lose-lose proposition with Andrew. Exactly why I wanted our relationship to work so badly in the first place is a worthwhile question, but I am a woman, and the more a man withdraws into himself, the more a woman chases him there to draw him out. Andrew told me that our relationship wasn’t working because I wasn’t spiritual enough. What a blow!

He complained that I wasn’t an experienced meditator and that my three short years of meditation practice didn’t enable me to understand my mind the way he understood his mind, thus rendering me incapable of a “spiritual relationship.” When he lamented that I only meditated for a half hour a day whereas he meditated for an hour, I painstakingly began to meditate for an hour. When he complained that since I studied Vipassana Buddhism instead of Zen Buddhism, I couldn’t really understand his true aim, I started reading Zen and altered my meditation. Finally, he said that even though I was starting to walk the path of Zen, his teacher taught in a very particular way that was distinct from other schools of Zen. But when I told him I wanted to meet his teacher, he said that I had already taken over too much of his life and that he was entitled to keep the very thing he treasured most—his teacher—for himself (even though she taught publicly throughout California).

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