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Flourishing in Fertile Ground by Wendy Peterman, PhD

At Cannon Beach, in Oregon, there is an iconic set of rocks, jutting out of the ocean. I first saw them two years ago on a first date with a man I met on a dating app suggested by my daughter. It was a very awkward day for two super introverted, sensitive, neuro-atypical nature lovers who can already tell this person will change their lives if they just give them the chance. After following all of the rules of meeting in a public place, keeping things light, staying in touch with instincts, and not talking about the past, I decided that a bench in front of Barnes and Noble in a city was the worst possible environment for us and suggested a drive to the beach. The moment I saw those rocks, the world became new. I jumped up and down, clapping and exclaiming in delight about how much I loved those rocks. We spent the rest of the day walking in the sun, noticing every change in perspective on those rocks as we progressed down the mile-and-a-half stretch of beach.

“Look how the plants grow out there on tiny little shelves, where it’s just flat enough for them to take hold. How wonderful!” I said. He eagerly looked at all of the plants growing on the sheer rock face and marveled aloud at the creativity and tenacity of nature, adding what tidbits of geology and botany he knew.

“Oh! Look now! Just by walking a few hundred yards, we can now see two more rocks we didn’t even know were there before! Look how much more we know now that we took these steps!” I exclaimed. He came to stand behind me and see what I’m seeing. I noticed how carefully he puts his hands behind his back so as not to touch me as he leaned in to hear me over the wind and waves. I feel warmth, safety, and curiosity in him. My inner self said, “Yes. This is how it should feel.”

“Oh my goodness! This side of that giant rock has light-colored splashes all over it! Why do you think that is?” I asked. We contemplated the possibility of bird poop from the seagulls who are lazily soaring around and then landing on the rock. No. The light spots didn’t look like they had been dropped from above and splattered by the force of impact. We decided they looked too superficial to be veins of minerals in the rocks. He suggested maybe it was salt from the ocean. I wondered how salt would dry in those exact patterns as if thrown from a very particular angle, and why it was only on this side of the rock. We held still, watching and waiting. To our delight, a wave crashed against the big rock, only on this side, sending spurts of salty water to land in thin films on the rock face. Clasping my hands in front of my chest, I gushed, “How wonderful! We never would have known that, if we hadn’t crossed to this side, looked at it from the perfect angle, and waited to see what would happen! I’m so happy!”

We spent the afternoon celebrating iridescent reflections on shards of seashells, small rocks that may have been carried from other biomes, seaweed that looked like palm fronds, and always marveling at new perspectives on the set of rocks just off the coastline. Watching me chasing waves and getting caught off-guard by sneakers with little regard for the fact that my jeans were getting soaked, he took off his shoes, rolled up his pant legs, and momentarily abandoned his quiet, peaceful, hands-behind-back demeanor to experience the cold, wet exhilaration of the Pacific ocean with me. Walking back to the car, I heared him say behind me, “Soaked jeans and a sundress is a really good look for you.” I flipped my hair over my shoulder and said, “Damn right it is.”

Two years later, I have a heart full of gratitude for everything that has brought me here. I thank my daughter for choosing me to be the imperfect, yet always willing vessel of unconditional love as she forges her own way in the world. I thank my close friends and colleagues for seeing my magnificence, asking me to keep an open mind, and thanking me for giving love a chance. I thank my bonus children for wanting me to have love and joy in my life.

I can’t believe how hard it has been to come to this place of being ready to be really, truly loved. There have been so many excuses. “My first spouse was the love of my life, and now, I just can’t find that again." "I’m attracted to the wrong people who end up hurting me like the adults in my life did when I was young." "I’m too eccentric, and the things I want out of life are too unusual for someone else to appreciate or also want." "I need to learn to be alone because that’s what makes a woman strong, independent, and respected." "I don’t see any other relationships I would want to be in, so they must all be broken and undesirable.” These are all the agreements I had to break with myself to come face to face with my true fear: “I am unworthy of love.”

How ridiculous! Every person and thing I see in the world is worthy of love. Every tree is a masterpiece just for the magic of its being, regardless of its size, shape, or species and whether it’s alive or dead. Every moment we are alive and in touch with ourselves and each other is a gift to be cherished. Those things are obvious to me. What was not obvious was that I needed to recognize and embrace the love I give myself and that I deserve it. Giving myself space from dangerous people is the love I deserve. Building a life full of joy, meaning and gratitude is love that I deserve. Having people in my life who see and adore me, just the way I am, nerdy, nature-freak me, is love that I deserve.

I didn’t just suddenly come to this from meeting the right person. I met the right person because I spent a year intentionally coming to this. My friend Catherine gave me the book “Calling in the One” by Katherine Woodward Thomas. She had used it in her journey to finding the right mate and wanted me to have that same experience. I didn’t want a “one.” I didn’t believe in “ones.” After all, the world is full of nearly eight billion people, so how could there really be one that is just right for me? I decided, however, to go through the book and do every single exercise for the sake of making myself my “one.“ The book claims to be “7 weeks to Attract the Love of Your Life.” I took a year, working through this book, to become the love of my life.

I took myself on dates to fancy restaurants and made a note to myself to ask for a more private table, so I didn’t have to listen to the conversations of people I wouldn’t want to spend time with, who were being very loud at other tables. I took myself to independent films and gave myself permission to leave the theater at exactly the moment I stopped enjoying the movie. I drove myself three hours to an Indian reservation in southern Oregon to see LGBTQ punk icon, Joan Jett. I danced my heart out, sang my voice hoarse, and rejoiced at the fact that I didn’t have to worry about whether I was embarrassing someone else. I let my daughter take me shopping and convince me to buy “Boho” clothes that made me feel sexy and alive as the middle-aged hippy mama I am. I walked down the street, enjoying the loose fabric, the weight of my long, curly hair, the solid footing of my leather boots, and the easy stride of my dancer's legs. I said, “Thank you” to people who told me my hair was pretty, or that I was looking good in my running attire, or that I was “mighty sexy” that day. I fulfilled my dream of building a tiny house for myself to live off-grid in the mountains. In essence, I let myself be lovable, desirable, and free just as I am, in all ways and in every moment, regardless of who else was or was not there.

After a year of this, my very direct daughter said, “Mom, this dating yourself thing is really weird.”

“Oh well. I like it,” I replied.

“Well. It’s weird. We’re meant to be with other people,” she said.

“But I like being with myself,” I said.

“Well, maybe you could pretend to be by yourself with someone else there,” she offered, “just so it doesn’t look so weird.”

I laughed at her self-consciousness from halfway across the country, but I heard, “Mom, I’m worried about you being alone,” and I admitted that I would like someone to really talk to. She suggested I try a dating app made to be especially safe for women. I didn’t want to be mindlessly swiping through hundreds of profiles, based on superficial judgments like it seemed other people were doing. I didn’t want to endure the awkwardness of meeting new people and making small talk over tea. She said, “The person who will be right for you will be very socially awkward. You need to learn to get through that.”

So, I made it through exactly four days of swiping like I was sorting through a clothing rack, and exhaustingly vapid conversations about how great, deep, and interesting someone else is, while wishing there was even anything to do with me in the interactions. I told my daughter I was done, sick of it, and not doing it anymore. She laughed at me for giving up so easily when she had spent her year having awkward conversations over food, determined to find the right person to venture into something with more substance.

On that fourth day, while complaining to my daughter about being done with the dating app, I swiped right on someone who looked a lot like my dad. He was claiming to be quiet, funny, growth-oriented, and to have his life together. I nearly swiped left, due to the physical resemblance to my dad, but he said he was looking for someone who was strong but soft, warm and kind, half elegant and half tomboy, and also had her life together. I had to give in and swipe right because he was wanting me.

This wasn’t the only reason. People often want me. They want me to make them happy. They want me to take care of them. They want me to make them look good. They want me to make them rich. They want me to validate them. They want me to fix them. They want me to support them. I have often confused the feeling of being needed with the feeling of being loved. I saw in him someone who might not need me so much as genuinely want me, the way I am, the way I like myself.

What I got from the first moment of interaction with him was exactly what I was wanting. Someone I could talk to. Someone who in one moment could laugh about fart jokes and my daughter’s quest to find the best butt on a country-western singer and in the next moment could hold a long, deep conversation about the Collective Unconscious and how it might affect our feelings and choices. After six months of perfect moments on hiking trails, breathless views of mountains and lakes, shallow, obnoxious conversations, and deep, soulful ones that engaged my entire brain, I am in awe and falling deeply in love with someone. I can’t express how much it means to me to find a person with whom I’m not too smart, too strong, too sensitive, too emotional, too accomplished, too scared, too shy, too fat, too athletic, too wild, too idealistic, too outdoorsy, too quiet, too talkative, too minimalist, too generous, or too into my children. I don’t even fart too much (which is saying a lot). I’m not too much of anything. I’m just the right amount of me. And, of course, he swiped right on me after asking a tree on the Oregon coast for guidance on what to do next with his life. Here's to many more years of adventures and conversations with trees.





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