Looking back on a year of fearless love

In January last year, because I needed to believe in the power we all have to touch and lift and heal each other, I declared 2011 my year of loving fearlessly. In July, half way through my love project, I made a list of things I’d learned so far. Now, sitting here on the other end of my big, crazy, year-long experiment, I’m daunted by the thought of trying to summarize it for you. How can I possibly tell you all I’ve learned, how I’ve changed? How can I do it justice?

I don’t want to write a list.

I know, right? Me, the queen of lists, the one who believes there is something inherently worthy in a life enumerated. But I don’t want to make the love project neat for you. It wasn’t neat. It was wild and amazing. It was surprising and scary and everything I never imagined. It was exhausting and energizing. I want to sit with it, assemble it artfully like a collage, or soulfully like a prayer. I want to get up and run with it, fling myself into the new year with 2011 trailing behind me, still attached, like some gigantic, magnificent, weather-worn kite.

I don’t want to make a list.

I want to tell you about how my conversations went in 2011, how, online and off, they had an unsettling tendency to veer off course, turning, in an instant, intimate. Disarmingly honest. I want to tell you how those conversations undid me, how I tried to be cool like this is how my life always is, while inside I panicked because I didn’t know how to be that vulnerable, how to let someone else be that vulnerable with me.

I want to tell you about one conversation in particular, because it isn’t a list, and it isn’t daunting. It’s small and thorny and beautiful, and maybe it’s what the whole year was really about.

I was talking to a new friend, someone I met in 2011, a woman I very much admire. She’s smart, accomplished, hugely capable and yet not quite trusting of her own considerable abilities. We were talking about the impetus to create, where it comes from,what it’s fueled by – restlessness, curiosity, a desire to communicate, to connect.

Passion came up, of course, and then love, and before long we were talking about relationships and marriage – at first philosophically, but eventually we wandered into our own stories. We had both recently emerged from the most difficult times of our marriages, the kind of difficult times that lots of marriages don’t survive.

Because we hadn’t known each other long, we skirted up against the specifics without laying them out, both of us feeling the kinship, the common ground of our emotions, trusting that there was something valuable in our sharing. We talked about fear and guilt and faith, mistakes big enough to alter the landscape, the scary disorientation of standing in a familiar relationship and recognizing nothing.

When I think of our conversation now, I realize we were talking about love, ungainly and raw, stripped of its poetry and romance; this was real love in real life, where it doesn’t always fit nicely in a tweet or on a t-shirt or in a blog post. And it was while I was in that conversation, that amazing conversation in which the newness of our friendship made us leave the details on the curb so that we could venture unencumbered into the twisty terrain of our hearts, that I realized how alike we were… how alike we all are. It’s only the details that are different, the specific life circumstances. Underneath them is the joy, the sorrow, the grief, the longing. Looking there, beneath the surface of things, we recognize each other instantly, our shared humanity, our wounded, hopeful hearts.

In 2011, I was startled by that truth again and again, stunned by how similar we are, across genders, age groups, geographies, backgrounds. We all struggle to navigate the tricky waters of family, the changing roles of parents and children, the inevitable failings of our lovers and friends. We think of ourselves as autonomous but we aren’t really; we touch (and crash into) each other all the time, our kindness and our cruelty ripple across humanity in ways we can’t possibly know.

Last year, I tried hard to be fearless in love, and it changed me. I’m not the same person I was when I started the love project. Near the end of 2011, someone asked me if I thought I would be sad to see it end and I told her, “I think maybe I’m just getting started.”

My answer surprised me. It was a revelation. An uncharted step north.

I can’t wait to see what happens next.


  1. Estrella Azul on January 9, 2012 at 4:38 am

    This was so much better than a list, j, and you know I’m someone who also loves lists.
    What you said about real love is something I’ll write down and pin to my inspiration board now: “this was real love in real life, where it doesn’t always fit nicely in a tweet or on a t-shirt or in a blog post” – because that is exactly what I’ve found love being like!

    • j on January 9, 2012 at 9:08 am

      Thank you, Estrella.

      I do think that sometimes when our overall message is “love more,” we gloss over the hard, sad, gut-wrenching stuff that is, inevitably, part of a fully lived life, focusing instead on how little gestures make big ripples and how important it is that we are kind to ourselves. Of course, those things are absolutely true, but they are only part of it.

      I’m really looking forward to the kinds of discussions we’ll be having in 2012.

  2. Andrea Maurer on January 9, 2012 at 5:44 am

    Phenomenal post… Wish I’d have written it. My word of the year last year was LOVE, as well. What I learned was very similar, that we’re all the same. I keep saying (in a lame attempt to express what you have here), “We’re all completely screwed up and totally well-intentioned all at the very same time.” Thank you for your amazingness! XO

    • j on January 9, 2012 at 9:11 am

      “We’re all completely screwed up and totally well-intentioned all at the very same time.” I love that. And I smiled at your “lame” designation. Sometimes I think that’s when we’re at our best… when we’re willing to be earnest. I just wrote on a sticky note for myself: Don’t be afraid to be lame.

      Thank you right back!

  3. Meg Sweeney on January 9, 2012 at 6:25 am

    Wow! “Our kindness and our cruelty ripple across humanity in ways we can’t possibly know.” Yes Yes Yes. Thanks for this and the whole love project. Can’t wait for the whole new Love Project…projecting like a projectile into 2012!! It’s the year of the dragon Judy! Thanks so much for all of this really.

    • j on January 9, 2012 at 11:29 am

      I can’t wait either. I better get crackin’! (Thank you for all your support this past year. I’m so glad you’ll be with me in the one ahead.)

  4. lunajune on January 9, 2012 at 7:59 am

    We are powerful creatures
    our emotions fuel that power
    along the paths our lives take
    it is the energy that creates
    the wonder
    the horror
    and everything in between

    I love the image of the collage , it would have to be a huge one that is for sure…
    we are all walking this road of life connected in soo many ways
    ripples… love that image because we effect the world and once you become aware of it…there is no going back….
    thank you for your inspirations this past year… and in advance for this coming year.

    excited to see the new site β™₯

    • j on January 9, 2012 at 2:37 pm

      I’m excited too. Thank you for this. You’re right that there is no going back. Once you truly believe that we hold each other’s hearts in our hands, it changes how you move in the world. How could it not? <3

  5. Rita on January 9, 2012 at 8:14 am

    I don’t even know what My life would’ve been like if I hadn’t found you and your Love Project. I love that I get to be a Love Warrior and I love that we share this world together. I can’t imagine a better time to be alive. You have brought such greatness, and the best part about that is that sometimes you stumbled, and fell and sometimes you had no idea what you were doing, but you did it anyway and made the world a better place.

    I can’t WAIT to see what the new site will be like and what the new project will entail. I like to know what I’m going to be up to this year (alongside you). xoxoxo

    • j on January 9, 2012 at 2:38 pm

      Awww, thank you, Rita, for all the encouragement and for embracing fearless love so… well, fearlessly. How is the Ellen quest going?!

    • Rita on January 9, 2012 at 4:40 pm

      Well nothing yet. I expect to be hearing from Ellen’s people any day now. πŸ™‚ I hugged my 950th person today. Thelma. She is 91. πŸ™‚ And I’ve got something up my sleeve that I will share with you when we meet in 3 weeks!!! squeeeeeee!!! Thank YOU for giving me permission to embrace love so fearlessly. I always knew I had it in me, I just never knew that that was until you put words to it. xoxo

    • j on January 9, 2012 at 6:47 pm

      I expect you to too!

      And thank you too. Whenever I waver, I love how you all are here to prop me up. Big love to you, my friend.

  6. kaleighsomers on January 9, 2012 at 9:57 am

    I am giddy with anticipation over the new site. Love + projects = awesome.

    Have you read “Start Something That Matters” by Blake Mycoskie? I am addicted. Got it last night and already halfway done. So far, it reads like the kind of book you would love. And the kind of fuel you probably (OK, definitely) have for the Love Project. But just in case you’re looking for something to digest and sit in your brain for hours and make you lose sleep (because I don’t think I’ve been able to stop my spinning wheels), the book is phenomenal and heartwarming.

    Ps. Used to think heartwarming was just a nice expression. But lately, I have felt it. This warm gooeyness filling my insides. Your project, and others, has restored my sense of balance. Of fearless plunging into the unknown, too. Thank you.

    • j on January 9, 2012 at 6:52 pm

      Oh, I heard an interview with Blake Mycoskie on NPR, and thought he was so inspiring. I didn’t know there was a book. I’ll definitely check it out.

      I used to feel the same way about “openhearted” as you did about “heartwarming,” then I started reading Brene Brown and having all these amazing encounters with people, and I realized it’s not just a nice expression. It’s how I want to live. Risk and all.

  7. Clare Flourish on January 9, 2012 at 10:29 am

    Rather than a list, you could write a book. As a writer, you must find the idea appealing-
    you could continue with the adventure-
    we are all the same? Yes, behind the masks; it is the masks that make us feel different from others, which is a strange paradox when the masks are still often created to make us appear “Normal”.
    I look forward to your new site, and I eagerly await your every post.

    • j on January 9, 2012 at 8:12 pm

      The adventure will definitely continue, and there are a number of projects in the planning stage, some quite bookish. πŸ˜‰

      I love your point about the masks making us appear different when so often they are worn to make us seem more “normal” (whatever that means). Definitely going to spend some journal time on that thought.

  8. Marcie on January 9, 2012 at 10:30 am

    So beautifully brave in your relentless pursuit of fearless love. I have to echo your sentiment that we truly are one and the same. Beneath our outer veneers – we’re raw and vulnerable. We hurt. We bleed. And – we love! Can’t wait to see the new project!!!

    • j on January 9, 2012 at 8:13 pm

      Thank you, Marcie. I hope there is some way you and I can join forces on a project in 2012. I am in awe of your talent and amazing insight. xo

  9. Patricia MacDonald on January 9, 2012 at 10:36 am

    <3 is the closest way I can come to putting a heart in WordPress…

    • j on January 9, 2012 at 8:14 pm

      I’ll take it! Thank you! xo

  10. Julia Fehrenbacher on January 9, 2012 at 10:47 am

    I’m sitting here staring at this lame computer screen wondering what I could possibly say to convey the awe I feel when I read your words. This is what happens every time I come here, I leave fuller, more awake…without words.

    I can’t wait to continue on this f-ing wild ride with you, my courageous, bad-ass new friend. I’m deeply grateful that we are side-by-side, J. Here’s to one north-bound step at a time.

    Love and more love,


    • j on January 9, 2012 at 8:27 pm

      I know that feeling… it’s how I feel when I leave your site as well. I’m grateful for our side-by-sidedness too… looking forward to much more of it in the year ahead.

  11. Pam Carlson on January 9, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    (I love that it isn’t a list, but I’m perversely curious to see the attempt at a list that might’ve been part of the prep for this beautiful post. :p)

    It’s true, love isn’t all paths strewn with fragrant flower petals. Sometimes it’s a rough sea, sometimes you’re lost and afraid. It’s still the best thing we’ve got.

    • j on January 10, 2012 at 8:45 am

      Ha! Nothing to see. I knew right away there wouldn’t be a list. It was just surprising to me… for whom there is always a list. And your last paragraph is golden!

  12. Joanne Marie Firth on January 9, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    I love the impact the conversation with your new friend had on you. The unexpected discovery of a hidden sisterhood in life and love. So rare and precious. Here’s to many more surprise-laden conversations ahead. I would love to take part in some of them. Love, the subject with endless perspectives.

    • j on January 10, 2012 at 8:47 am

      You and I have had plenty of discussions – many of them right here in the comment thread – that have made me rethink or refine my position. I have no doubt we will have plenty more. xo

  13. Annie Neugebauer on January 9, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    Thank you, J. So glad to have been along for part of your journey. You have given me so much inspiration. I’ll be there for sure when the new site opens. Much love.

  14. j on January 10, 2012 at 8:47 am

    Thank you, Annie. The feeling is quite definitely mutual.

  15. C. Fassett on January 10, 2012 at 9:31 am

    Have you ever heard a song, or a part of a song, where all the instruments played come together so perfectly that it feels like your soul is being lifted to become one with that cloud of perfect harmony?

    Yeah, that’s your words in this post. All humming with life, and love, and…musical…my soul rises and I feel my hand reaching out to catch the tail of your kite flying.

    • j on January 10, 2012 at 11:38 am

      Oh, Cindy, thank you so much for this! For reasons I should probably blog about at some point because I think maybe all bloggers grapple with similar issues, your comment means the world to me. I’m committed this year to writing with precision and honesty, writing fewer posts, but putting more care and craft and soul into each one.

      You just made me a little giddy. xo

  16. Lance on January 11, 2012 at 6:16 pm

    I can’t wait until January 16th…btw, my teenager turns 16 tomorrow -12th. I’m not handling it well.

    • j on January 12, 2012 at 8:51 am

      Happy birthday to your daughter! I’ll avoid all the sweet 16 stuff; I remember it being much more a tricky age than a sweet one. Hugs to you, Dad.

  17. ekcarmel on January 12, 2012 at 6:24 am

    Wow. Every time I come back here, you’ve written something that stays with me for quite a while. Your wonderful stories and insights, fun links, willingness to be vulnerable in front of strangers. What an incredible year you have had. I admire you so much and can’t wait to see what you have planned next.

    • j on January 12, 2012 at 8:54 am

      Thank you so much! Yes, it’s been a wild ride, with a few hard lessons and much more than a few rarefied moments. And if these first couple of weeks of 2012 are any indication, 2012 will be just as full of new. One thing for sure, I’m very grateful that you are all here with me.

  18. Giulietta Nardone on January 12, 2012 at 9:30 am

    J, Such eloquent writing. My favorite lines: And it was while I was in that conversation, that amazing conversation in which the newness of our friendship made us leave the details on the curb so that we could venture unencumbered into the twisty terrain of our hearts, that I realized how alike we were… how alike we all are. It’s only the details that are different, the specific life circumstances.

    Life is not always neat and pretty, nor should it be. We all suffer joy and tragedy and everything in between. That’s what makes life worth living. If life were a glossy brochure it wouldn’t have any meaning.

    My wise husband always says, “the ups and downs of life are the price of admission.”

    Here’s to your fab new web site and a heartfelt 2012!


    • j on January 13, 2012 at 12:33 pm

      Thank you, G!

      Of course, you’re absolutely right about life’s not being a glossy brochure, but I do think that’s the way we treat it sometimes, in the blogosphere. We simplify it, make it post-size and easily digestible… even the sad bits. I’m definitely ready for some unvarnished truths in 2012!

      I just handed my new site to the wonderful people who said they’d look it over for me before launch. Final conversions over the weekend, and we’re off. Here and there!

  19. Masks | Clare Flourish on January 16, 2012 at 11:06 pm

    […] wrote of a conversation with a woman about experiences of Love, where she realised how alike we all are. […]

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