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From The New York Times, this is “Modern Love.” I’m Anna Martin.
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Love now and always.
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Did you fall love last night?
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Tell her I love her.
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Love is stronger than anything.
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Feel the love.
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And I love you more than anything.
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What is love?
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Today, we have an essay about being yourself when you’re dating, which is so hard to not show off, just to show up as you. The essay is written by relationship expert Jay Shetty, and this guy is kind of having a moment.
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Please welcome to The Late Show, Jay Shetty.
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Will Smith is a big fan. I know Oprah’s a big, big, big fan.
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Jay, you’re amazing.
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Jay Shetty in the house.
He’s the go-to to life coach for over 50 million followers. He’s written books. He’s on a world tour. And, this is huge for me, he officiated the wedding of J.Lo and Ben Affleck. On his podcast —
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Third question is from Alana. Thank you for your question.
He answers burning love questions.
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I’ve been ghosted recently for the first time. I feel like I did something wrong. Whoa, right? This is such a common one for so many people. Now, why do we need closure —
Jay’s advice is tailored for the internet, but it’s rooted in Hindu philosophy. Jay was a monk in India for three years in his 20s, and that time gave him insights into the way that anyone can be more loving and more compassionate and more monk-like, even if you’ve never been to an ashram. Today we have Jay’s Modern Love essay about dating like a monk and how that led him to the love of his life.
Jay Shetty. So excited to have you on the show. Welcome to “Modern Love.”
Oh, thank you so much for having me. I’m so grateful to be here.
So Jay, you became a monk right after you graduated university, which is not a traditional post-grad plan. How did you make the choice to dedicate yourself to this way of life?
So the first monk I ever met was at a college event. I used to go and hear speakers and athletes and musicians and thought leaders speak all the time. I went there expecting very little and thinking I didn’t need anything that he was going to share, but I walked out of there with a new found direction.
He was talking about how the greatest gift in life, or the greatest purpose, is to use our skills in the service of others. Now when I look back, I realized that when I was 18 I’d met people who were beautiful. I’d met people who were rich. But I don’t think I’d met anyone who is truly content and truly self-aware, and he was all of those things. And so I thought, well, I want those things. Those things seem to be worthy of pursuit.
So for the next three to four years, I still had relationships. I was still going out. I was still doing anything that any person does at college, but I would spend my summer and Christmas vacations often visiting his monastery in India.
Oh, wow. OK.
And I’d spend the other half interning at financial companies and corporations in London, thinking that that’s what I was going to do for work. And every time I’d come back from the monastery I’d be full of joy and enthusiasm and energy. And every time I finished my internship I’d think, I don’t think that that’s what I’m meant to be doing. So I allowed myself to live two separate lives because I was just trying to learn and understand. I was very young. I even skipped my graduation ceremonies because I was already in the monastery. Yeah, in the ashram.
Was everyone in your life — how did they react to that choice?
So a lot of my friends were really confused. They were just like, what are you doing? Everyone was getting fancy jobs. And my extended family and community was actually quite negative. They were saying things like, you’re wasting your life. You’re never going to get a job again. You’re joining a cult.
Wow. What would you tell them was so important about this way of life that you needed to go dedicate your existence to it?
Well, the two things that I saw the monks, in those summer and Christmas vacations, what they dedicated their life to was self mastery and service. And when I talk about self mastery, I mean understanding ego, understanding envy, understanding what our emotions are trying to tell us and how to respond to them.
And the other half was service, that they were living their life trying to build sustainable villages or food distribution programs to help the poor or disadvantaged children. And I saw them living their life in a way trying to positively impact others. And I thought, that’s what I want to dedicate my life to is figuring out what’s going on inside of me, and then help people figure out what’s going on outside.
You became a monk in your 20s, when most people are going out and flirting and going on dates. And your Modern Love essay kind of begins with you listing out what your priorities were when you were a monk. Can you read that part of your essay for me?
So 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, brahmacharya, 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.
And when energy is scattered, it’s difficult to create momentum or impact.
You mentioned that these monks that you saw who you so admired and were learning from had this method of self mastery. Can you tell me what you learned about that method of subduing the ego over those three years?
Yeah. So from a more general standpoint, I’d say that when you’re living with a group of men in an ashram, every single person is a mirror for your ego because you’re having so many interactions daily that trigger you.
What do you mean triggered? Like, you have a difficult conversation or something?
Yeah, it could be a difficult conversation. It could be that someone didn’t save food for you when you were late to lunch or breakfast, right? It could be that you weren’t selected to give a class this morning and someone else was. And you start noticing very worldly responses to spiritual tasks. And you realize that just being in an ashram doesn’t remove your ego.
So I’d say that some of the practices that really helped were the practices of recognizing that everyone was a teacher and a student at the same time. This is something that was one of my favorite moments, actually. I was with my monk teacher and he’s in his 60s or 70s at the time, and I’m a young new monk.
And every morning I would bow down to him, which was our custom, and he would bow down again back to me. And I would always think how special that was because there was this mutual respect. And I think that practice was really beautiful because you realize that you were never at the top and you were never at the bottom.
Mm-hmm. Well, I want to talk about your decision to leave the ashram after three years. How did you make that call?
So it was the most difficult decision I’d made at the time. Communal living was really tough on my body in terms of my health. I would get sick more often in the ashram. You know, you’re living in rooms from sometimes 30 to 100 people. And so there was a physical health component.
And then there was this deeper realization that I loved what I was learning, but all I dreamt about and thought about was how could I share this with other people because I know so many of my friends are dealing with this. But they’re not going to come here. But I really feel the desire to share it with them. And I wanted to do that.
And so there were these two self awareness pieces which led me to realize I wasn’t a monk. And I think that’s almost like realizing that you told someone you loved them, but now you’re falling out of love with them or you realize you’re not in love with them anymore. Like, that’s how it felt.
Did you talk to your teachers at all when you were thinking about making this hard decision to leave the ashram?
I did, I did. And I was even scared to talk to them about it because I didn’t want to feel judged. You’re almost dropping out, and you think, what are your teachers going to say?
And my teacher said to me, when I told him that I think I should leave, he said to me that some people go to college, and some of them become professors. And he said some of them leave after their degree, and they become entrepreneurs or they work at a company. And he said, which one’s better, the people who become professors, or the people who leave?
And I said, neither. I mean, whatever’s right for the person. And he said, well that’s the same here. He said some people come, and they graduate to become monks, and they stay here for many years. And some take their training like you did and leave and go on to do wonderful things. And he said, I think you’ll be very happy if you’re sharing what you’ve learned, and so you should do that.
And so there was this really, like, understanding, open view of no, maybe it’s not right for you anymore. It was right for you then and not anymore, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Even in your decision to leave them, they had compassion for you, which is really beautiful.
Exactly. That time was extremely tough for me, and it wasn’t even a happy decision. And it was even more depressing because when I came back, everyone was like, oh we told you so. Oh, you came back. Oh, you failed being a monk. And then I was applying for jobs, and 40 companies rejected me without an interview. And I was thinking, oh God —
Because your resume had ashram for three years on it and nothing else.
Yeah, exactly. Yeah, it’s like, what are your transferable skills? Sitting silent and being still. Like, no one wants that in their company. And so it was just almost like, maybe everyone was right and maybe I did just waste three years. Yeah, really difficult time.
When you came back to London, you know like in a science fiction movie or something when people are frozen in those little pods and then they get released after thousands of years and they’re like, what is a cell phone? Was it like that for you when you came back to London? Did you not recognize anything around you?
The hardest part is having to do small talk when you’ve done no small talk for three years. Right? You’ve not had a conversation about the latest TV show or the latest movie.
You’re like, have you heard about self-mastery? And they’d be like, what?
That’s exactly it.
That must have been really awkward as you started to get back into dating, too. What was that part of it like, building a social life, dating again?
I didn’t really think about dating overall as — I guess I was a bit scared. But I didn’t even think about it that way. But I’d definitely forgotten how to flirt. But when I started talking to my now wife because she was really good friends with my sister and she’d be over at our place, and I’d be talking to her, right? I only really knew how to have really thoughtful, vulnerable, deep conversation.
I do remember that she was always very inquisitive, and so that was kind of helpful for me to just totally be myself. That kind of made it easy for me to be around her, I guess, because it wasn’t someone that I had to be someone I wasn’t around.
After the break, Jay Shetty goes on a date after leaving the ashram, and it does not go well. That’s next.
So Jay, you’ve left the ashram. You’re back living in London trying to return to a normal life. You’re working. You’re starting to date. And eventually you go on a date with Radhi, who is now your wife. Can you read the part of your essay where you talk about your first date with her?
Absolutely. The night was going to cost me nearly a week’s income, and I wanted it to be perfect. We were at Locanda Locatelli, one of the best restaurants in London. When we slid into a buttery leather booth, I winced. She was vegan, and vegans aren’t known to appreciate leather booths.
But the lights were low, the ambiance beautiful, and I was still hoping to hear how impressed she was. “Do you think they have anything vegan on the menu?” she said, sounding 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 I didn’t know how much choice she would have.
“Fresh pasta usually has eggs,” she said, “but we’ll see.” “The service is amazing, right?” I said. 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.
Oh. I’m feeling for you, Jay, in this moment.
Oh my gosh.
Why do you think it was so easy for you to slip back into this sort of unmonklike mode of trying to impress Radhi? Like, what is it about dating someone that made you slip back to the old way of life?
I think we’re so unaware, and we underestimate how strongly our conditioning and wiring leads our life. Since I was young, I saw the dates that movies had in rom-coms. I had done those dates with partners in my teens and college life. And so you assume that I just have to keep repeating this cycle until it goes wrong. And I think we don’t realize how many cycles and how many patterns we live in until we start to break them.
And it was only later that I figured out that my wife’s favorite thing to do. She said to me, my ideal date would be going to Tesco’s and walking down the bread aisle. Tesco’s is England’s Whole Foods. And I think that she was speaking more from a kind of funny, tongue in cheek in terms of, hey I’m simple. I just want to walk down an aisle at a grocery store and pick something up to eat. We don’t need to go to a fancy restaurant. And I thought that was refreshing and beautiful because it showed me that she didn’t value those things.
How long did it take you to sort of relax into yourself with Radhi? And what did it take to do that?
Well, I think it was — I give the credit to her because she was so good at not trying to impress someone back. And I don’t know, Radhi is just a special human being. She’s so different and weird in a good way. I dedicated my first book to her, and I wrote the dedication to be, to my wife who’s more monk than I’ll ever be.
I just think that a lot of the qualities I learned during my time as a monk, Radhi had them quite naturally. I look for monk qualities in everyone I meet, and I believe everyone, whether they’ve been a monk or not, have them. But a monk life really helps us consciously train them and build them and develop them as well.
Yeah, I’m struck by when you said that she was — even though it was a bit of a joke, like, I just want to walk down the bread aisle. That sort of simple, pure way of connecting does feel very monklike of her. I mean, it sounds like you were picking up on these sort of monklike qualities in her, even early on
I think that as well, but I think — another thing that just came to mind is Radhi would always say, oh I want you to come and spend time with my family. My family is really important to me. I remember when I first started hanging out at her house, her family would often look at her like, are you really going to wear that when he comes over? Because she’d just be in sweats or whatever. And she’d be like, yeah, that is what I’m going to wear because that’s what I would wear if I was at the house.
And so she had this really, like, honest, vulnerable, open way of being from the beginning. And I think that was definitely monklike as well to just say, yeah, this is who I am, and this is how we’ll be.
And it’s part of your practice now to try to develop, or even hone those monk qualities in other people, correct? That’s your books and your podcast, that’s sort of about training folks who haven’t spent years in ashram to exhibit these qualities in their own life.
Yeah, definitely. The literatures that I studied during my time as a monk really laid out the four stages of life, almost as four classrooms of love. And so the four stages of life are considered life in solitude, or monklife, or single life. The second stage is relationship life or married life. The third stage of life is almost reflecting and thinking about what you want to do next. And then the fourth stage of life is loving the world.
And the monks believe that the most important love story is the love story you have with anyone and everyone and with the world. I think so often we’ve built up this idea in society that the most important love story is your romantic love story. So many people either go through life single and think that they’re unworthy of love because they don’t have a romantic partner, or someone loses their romantic partner and then they feel like they don’t have any love in their life. But the love of a brother or sister or a mother or a father, like all of these loves count. So we can’t say that romantic love is above or below any of these.
Jay, of those four steps, what stage do you think you’re in?
I would say that I probably have a bit of a glimpse into all of them.
I’m probably at step two, practicing to love my wife and the people around me. But I have a glimpse into step three and four because step three requires a lot of healing to detect love within yourself. And then stage four is where I want to live every day, which is I want to love everyone, and I want to share love with everyone on the planet. And I want to be able to spread love across the world.
Well you are on a world tour, so I’d say you’re pretty far on your way to step four. I guess —
No, I think I’m definitely — that’s why I said glimpses because when I’m with my teachers, I see how they live in that space and I see how I just have a little peek and that’s good enough to prove to me it’s real. And so I feel grateful that there’s more to learn, though. I’m not upset I’m not there. I’m happy that I know where I have to go.
All I’m trying to give people is I don’t want anyone to feel shame or guilt for how they currently live. I want you to feel clarity and curiosity about where you still have to go.
Jay Shetty, thank you so much for coming on the show.
Thank you for having me. So grateful and appreciate your time and energy.
Modern Love is produced by Julia Botero, Kristina Joseph, and Hans Buetow. It’s edited by Sara Sarasohn. Our executive producer is Jenn Poyant. This episode was mixed by Marion Lozano. Our show was recorded by Maddy Masiello.
The Modern Love theme music is by Dan Powell. Original music in this episode by Marion Lozano, Pat McCusker, and Rowan Niemisto. Digital production by Mahima Chablani and Nell Gallogly. Special thanks to Jay Shetty’s team, Nicole Berg and Annie Gingold.
The Modern Love column is edited by Daniel Jones. Miya Lee is the editor of Modern Love projects. I’m Anna Martin. Thanks for listening.