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Date Like A Monk. Love Quest

Hadley’s Intro:  ‘We’re not here to impress
each other. We’re here to connect.’
Connect on deeper levels using tips
in this guest post, courtesy of
the New York Times

By Jay Shetty

Jan. 13, 2023, 12:00 a.m. ET

Ten years ago, when I was 25, I hadn’t been on a
date — or even considered the possibility of
romance — for over three years. During that
time, I had served as a Hindu monk, meditating,
studying ancient scripture, traveling and serving
throughout India and Europe with my fellow monks.

Monks are famously celibate, but celibacy
doesn’t just mean you’re not having sex. It
means you’re not interacting with other people
in a way that could be considered romantic. The
Sanskrit word for monk, brahmacharyi, means “the
right use of energy.”

It’s not that romance and sexual energy are
wrong. But my practice teaches that we all have a
limited amount of energy, which can be directed in
multiple directions or one. When energy is
scattered, it’s difficult to create momentum or

As monks, we were trained to direct our energy
toward understanding our psyches, how we see the
world and interact with it. If you haven’t
developed a deep understanding of your motivations
and obstacles, it’s harder to move through life
with patience and compassion.

We tried to avoid anything that would distract us
from this mission of self-realization, be it video
games, partying with friends, or dating. When I
returned to London as a monk, one of my old
friends said, “We used to be each other’s wing
man. But you don’t drink anymore. You don’t
hit on girls. Now what are we going to do?”

Becoming a monk profoundly shifted my focus.
During college in London, I had devoted so much
time to a long-distance girlfriend that I missed
most of my classes. Celibacy allowed me to use
that time and space to understand myself and
develop the ability to still my mind.

I thought I would be a monk forever, but I decided
it was no longer the path for me. When I left the
ashram for good, I hadn’t watched TV, seen a
movie, or listened to music in three years. I
didn’t know who had won the World Cup or who the
Prime Minister of England was. And, apparently, I
had no idea how to impress a woman.

I had forgotten that I shouldn’t even be trying
to impress a woman. Just months out of the ashram,
I was already snapping back into societal norms of
romance, trying to make the best first impression
— and failing.

“Do you think they have anything vegan on the
menu?” my date said.

We were at Locanda Locatelli, one of the best
restaurants in London, but as a vegan, she sounded
more worried than excited.

“They’re famous for their fresh pasta,” I
said, trying to sound optimistic, but I had signed
us up for a special tasting menu and didn’t know
how much choice she would have.

“Fresh pasta usually has eggs,” she said,
“but we’ll see.”

Radhi and I had been volunteering together to
organize a charity event. She thought people
should be excited to attend from the moment they
left the tube station, so we arranged for a street
performer to play his trash can drum by the exit
next to a sign for our event. Radhi had been the
heartbeat of our team, and I already knew I liked
her. Once we had pulled off the event, I started
planning this date, booking the restaurant a month
in advance.

I had little money — I was tutoring college
students — and had taken her to see “Wicked”
before dinner. The night was going to cost me
nearly a week’s income, and I wanted it to be

When we slid into a buttery leather booth, I
winced; vegans aren’t known to appreciate
leather booths. But the lights were low, the
ambience beautiful, and I was still hoping to hear
how impressed she was.

“The service is amazing, right?” I said.
“And this pasta — ”

She smiled politely, but she wasn’t eating much.

After dinner, I drove her home and dropped her off
outside her apartment. She thanked me and waved a
friendly goodbye, but the evening had fallen flat.
Clearly, I had no idea what I was doing.

I had joined the monks because I wanted to find my
purpose and serve others. I didn’t leave because
I rejected anything I had studied. On the
contrary, I left because I wanted to bring what I
had learned out into the world.

I was starting to do so now that I was back home
in London, delivering small workshops about the
intersection of eastern philosophy and modern life
for anyone who showed up. But I hadn’t yet
figured out how to bring what I had learned to my
dating life.

Monks never try to impress anyone. As a monk, you
strive to master your ego and your mind. We think
love is its own puzzle, but when you explore the
dark lanes of your own mind, as monks are trained
to do, you develop patience, understanding and
compassion toward yourself, which you can then
bring to all your relationships. Going through the
process of learning to love yourself, as monks are
also trained to do, teaches you how to love
someone else.

The fancy restaurant was a show-off move. My ego
wanted to charm Radhi, wanted her to say, “Wow,
thank you for bringing me here. How did you score
this reservation?” Instead of what she actually
said: “I’d be perfectly happy to go to a
grocery store and buy some bread.”

My ego wanted to look good and win her admiration,
but it had distracted me from what I truly wanted,
which was to get to know Radhi and have her get to
know me.

Before I became a monk, my dating habits hadn’t
gotten me anywhere. Driven by my insecurity or
need to feel valued, I did nice things for women
so they would validate me. When I become a
monk, I happily left that dynamic behind, but
now, out of habit, I had reverted to it

My monk teachers never tried to impress me and
never wanted me to impress them. When I thought
back on all I had learned from them, through hours
of classes and study and stories, one simple
gesture stood out as representative of so much of
the philosophy: the bow. When we saw a senior
monk, we bowed before them. My teacher always
bowed to me in return.

Older than I was, wiser, and more worldly,
compassionate and pure, he bowed out of respect
and connection. I didn’t have to do anything or
be anyone for him to bow before me. Our bows said
that no matter who you are, no matter your
position or background, you’re never better or
worse than anyone else, and you’re not trying to

That was the underlying belief I wanted to bring
to Radhi, a belief on which I hoped to build our
relationship: We’re not here to impress each
other. We’re here to connect. To recognize and
accept each other. The bow was the greatest lesson
I had learned about love.

Radhi would later tell me that her community was
concerned about her dating a former monk. Her
grandmother worried I would leave her and return
to the ashram. Her friends assumed I was against
watching TV or going to movies and imagined that
all we could do together was sit and meditate.

Even Radhi herself worried that by spending time
with me she might be taking me away from my
spiritual practice. But monk training is mind
training. Being a monk may have closed me off to
certain things — I haven’t gone back to
eating meat or drinking alcohol, for example —
but it opened my mind to understanding and

I respected that everyone was moving at their own
pace, in their own time. My way wasn’t right or
wrong; they weren’t too slow or too fast. I
learned to see the essence of a monk in everyone I
met. Everyone has a part of themselves that is
compassionate, loving and beautiful.

I saw that essence in Radhi the moment we met. She
didn’t need to go to an ashram to acquire it.
She was more of a monk than I would ever be, and
we didn’t need a fancy restaurant to connect.
For our next date, I took her to an outdoor ropes
course, where we helped each other swing from
trees, climb walls and walk narrow balance beams.
We were bowing to each other, in our way.

Radhi and I have been together ever since. I
brought the lesson of the bow and all I learned
from the monks to our relationship, and now I
teach those lessons to others. The monks, who say
nothing about romantic love, had taught me
everything I needed to know about romantic love.


How will you direct your energy into knowing and

being known in a relationship?

Hadley Finch

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