Love in the Time of Self-Help Books

Years ago I was in an on again, off again relationship with someone who I loved very much. But we were a bad fit for a long-term, romantic relationship. We tried to fit the square peg of “us” into a round relationship hole for almost a year. It was tiring and tedious and inevitably led to break ups. But we kept coming back to each other. At one point when we had broken it off yet again, but I was struggling to refrain from calling him, I read some advice on line: If you want to end a relationship, write the person’s name on a piece of paper and put it in your freezer. This will “freeze” them out of your life and you will finally be able to move on. (Note: I do realize how crazy this sounds.) I took a notepad, tore off a small piece of paper, wrote his name across it, and placed it in my freezer between a bag of frozen blueberries, and an ice pack. And it worked—for awhile. But after a couple of months, he called me, we reconnected, and soon he was hanging out at my place like old times. One evening we were sitting reading in the living room when he got up to go to the kitchen to see if I had any ice cream. He was gone for several minutes and when he returned he was holding a small scrap of paper and he looked confused. “Why am I in your freezer?”

So in honor of one of the low points of my single days, I give you a list of the relationship books on my bookcase. (A special thank you to my sweetheart who has made all of these obsolete.)

It’s Not You, It’s Him: The Zero-Tolerance Approach to Dating. One of my favorites. There are other books with the reverse title, It’s Not Him, It’s You. But let me just say, that was not my experience.

Mars and Venus on a Date. Overlooking that the author is divorced (from another relationship guru Barbara De Angelis, herself married five times), John Gray, author of the original Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, has some interesting (and occasionally ridiculous) insights to offer both sexes.

It’s Called a Breakup Because it’s Broken: The Smart Girl’s Breakup Buddy. This one is awesome for the moments of self-doubt when you’re wondering if you made the right decision to break up with him/her. Trust me, you did.

If the Buddha Dated. I love this whole series. If the Buddha Got Stuck. If the Buddha Got Married. If the Buddha Got Road Rage. Not that last one, but you get the idea. These are charming little books (the size of your hand, which I love!) that offer practical, spiritual guidance that can be applied to many aspects of one’s life.

Zen and the Art of Falling in Love. I fell in love with this book. I borrowed it from a friend and took it on a silent, weekend retreat to upstate New York one weekend, many years ago. I had five other books with me but this was the only one I read. Over and over again.

Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships. This one originally caught my eye because it had blurbs on the cover from relationship therapist and bestselling author Harville Hendrix, spiritual teacher and Buddhist Sharon Salzberg, AND feminist, activist, and author bell hooks. Any one of whom I would enjoy having dinner with, preferably all together.

Getting the Love You Want. Speaking of Harville Hendrix … A classic. The title says it all.

The Dance of Intimacy, The Dance of Connection, and The Dance of Anger. A holy trinity of cheap therapy.

Expect a Miracle: 7 Spiritual Steps to Finding the Right Relationship. Well, I found my Mr. Right. And I guess that’s all you need to know about this last one.