The biggest lesson I ever learned about love came from an older woman… Now before your mind goes to some sketchy place with saxophone music and fuzzy lighting, let me stop you. It’s not what you think.

I met her when I was in 25. I had recently moved to Los Angeles — El Segundo to be exact. And I loved to skate on the beach. Not on blades. Old school, four-wheel roller skates made of tan suede. I loved them and would take them out every week on the boardwalk, sun on my face, hair in the breeze, listening to songs on my Walkman.

My old pair, circa 1996 — scuff marks courtesy of my many stumbles…

On this day, I had just had a fight with the love of my life of the moment. I was sad and blue and dramatic because I was in my 20s and my 20s was all about being sad and blue and dramatic.

But I was out trying to skate those blues away.

I got on the boardwalk, got up to speed, got cocky and then as I passed some cyclists going wayyyyy too slow for my taste, caught some sand, lost balance and BAM! Down I went, cutting a deep gash in my bare knee.

I was done for the day. I was also bleeding profusely. So I stopped at the lifeguard shack and got some band-aids and paper towels to stop the blood and then I took my bruised body and ego and sat at one of those boardwalk cafes on the beach.

Her name tag read “Warren,” which at first I thought was her being ironic. Like how pretty girls wear gas station work shirts with the name “Stan” on them. But it wasn’t ironic. Her actual name was Warren, which as far as I was concerned was the coolest fucking name for a girl. I’ve been told my name is cool, but at the time, “Ayser” didn’t have the same ring to it. Not like “Warren.” That was badass.

Warren was exactly what you would expect her to look like. Razor straight raven hair she wore in a longish pageboy. Perfect cat’s-eye lined lashes. Porcelain skin. And the most beautiful nose in profile this Middle Eastern girl had ever seen. And tattoos. Not a sleeve or anything, just a cool three-line Sanskrit poem on the inside of her forearm.

Warren was the coolest human I’d ever met. She was the white girl version of who I wanted to be. At 25 years old I still hadn’t found my style. My boyfriend at the time cringed at my regular uniform of shapeless sack dress with white t-shirt underneath and matching socks and loafers. I’d just come from Kentucky but that’s no excuse. I looked like a sister wife before I knew what a sister wife was.

Thankfully, on this day I’d had the good sense to wear cut-off jeans and a tank top so I could blend in more with modern society…

Warren and I chatted as she took my order. She was from Boise, Idaho, had just turned 40 and followed a guy here. She told me she did it for love. The poem on her arm had something to do with giving in completely to love and letting it be your compass.

She’d been an accountant back home and decided she wanted a change — She had always wanted to open her own boutique. Then she met Hendricks, fell in love and followed him to Manhattan Beach where he was becoming a pro volleyball player. A few months later he got cold feet and they ended up calling it quits.

“…Well yeah, his name is Hendricks, Nothing can end well with a guy named Hendricks.”

…was my thought, which luckily I didn’t feel the need to vocalize. What I didsay out loud was:

“Does it make you sad?”

Warren looked dreamily off towards the ocean.

“Not one bit, I loved him fully and completely without fear or worry about the future. I was IN IT and I would do it exactly the same way again. I felt the highs and I felt the lows. And that’s a beautiful thing.”

It was the first time I’d ever heard someone speak so openly and freely this way. It was intoxicating and I’m pretty sure I fell in love with her right then and there. It certainly made me pour my heart out to her about my current love woes — being attached to someone who was about to move thousands of miles away. And who I worried I’d never get over. I was in love and worried I’d blown this love on someone who was planning on leaving me. My love should be enough. (Like I said, I was young and dramatic.)

Warren indulged me and listened patiently like saints and angels do, interjecting every now and then to drop gems like the following:

“The key to infinite love is never letting your heart get hardened. Keep it soft. Don’t ever let pain or disappointment harden it or you.”

She would walk away from time to time let her wisdom sink in and also to pour coffee for other customers. I took in her words while I tried to figure out how someone went about keeping their heart soft. What if your heart got broken too many times that it got brittle and never softened back up? You hear stories of these spinsters who wore sensible shoes. I was really terrified I’d have to wear sensible shoes…

As if hearing my thoughts, Warren came back with a macaroon and more wisdom:

“When you love someone it’s half about who they are and half about how they make you feel. So in order to really be in love with someone you must first be in love with yourself”

And then this exquisite Yoda finished her master class with this gem:

“The difference between loving someone and being in love is simple. Loving someone means accepting them for who they are — warts and all. But you don’t need regular contact with them. I love my best friend who lives all the way in Germany. And I love Hendricks even though I’m not in love with him anymore. Being in love with someone is a different thing altogether. It requires connection to them. It requires nourishment. If that isn’t there, then those feelings go away. I don’t have a connection with Hendricks anymore so I’m not in love with him. But I still love him very much.”

My first thought was to personally call Hendricks and tell him he was an idiot for letting that woman go.

My second thought was “Damn, too bad I’m not into girls. She’s awesome.”

…I let that second thought go. (Again, you can stop the cheesy sax music in your mind.)

The point is, I in my limited life experience had never thought of love that way. As a woman — Arab at that — I believed love conquered all. All you had to do was profess love to each other and it was all Happily Ever After, right? At least that’s what they taught you in Western rom-coms and Arabic soap operas. So even though when I met Tony, and he told me he was planning to move to a cold and damp climate far away and become a horror novelist, I never thought that meant he would be leaving ME to do so. Especially after we said “I love you.” And now here he was, moving away and I was not dealing with it like an adult should.

But listening to Warren gave me some comfort. When I left the beach, I felt less sad — even though I’d probably never see Tony again and who knows if I would ever LOVE again.

Tony moved away and I never saw him again. But I got over it and him enough to love again and again… and again.

Which brings me to present day.

My gorgeous new purple skates before I wiped out on a sandy curve on the boardwalk.

About three weeks ago, I found myself back on the boardwalk again. I’d upgraded my skates to the purple suede beauties, pictured above. I’d upgraded the guy as well. He wasn’t planning on moving to Scotland to be the next Stephen King — because there’s just no WAY I would make that same mistake twice. But we were having problems. Not seeing eye-to-eye and it was becoming a deal breaker.

So I went out for a skate to clear my head and feel the wind in my hair and BAM! I fell on my ass. Because even though it’s twenty years later and I’m older and (theoretically) wiser, some things never change. At least this time I wasn’t bleeding. Though I could barely walk. So I hobbled to the sand and I plopped down in front of the waves and that’s when I realized that:

1- I should probably not get on roller skates immediately after fighting with someone I’m involved with.

2- There’s a lot of poetic symmetry in my life.

And then I remembered Warren, for the first time since I saw her all those years ago. I wondered what she was doing. I wondered if Hendricks ever got his shit together and realized what he had with her. Did she get more tattoos?

And her words came back to me:

“You have to be in love with YOU to be in love with someone else.”

And it hit me. I had always thought being in love with someone was about them — but it’s really not. Being in love with someone is really how you view yourself. And I’m not talking about that Girl Power stuff of ‘if you don’t value yourself how can someone else value you?’ I’m talking about thinking you’re awesome and deeming someone important enough to bring into your sphere. It’s hard to explain. But it allowed me to fully let go in that moment. Between the ocean and memories of Warren, all negativity and doubt kinda melted away, replaced with a calm feeling of well-being.

And I kinda understood. I was in love with Patrick but we weren’t really connecting. So “IN LOVE” would soon morph into just “LOVE.” Something that you’re not inside of but that you maybe wear; like a comforting sweater or blanket. You can put LOVE away on a shelf or pull it out when you need something cozy. I liked that feeling.

LOVE is effortless and makes you feel like everything is okay. But as I’ve found, you can’t rationalize LOVE into being. You can’t think away being IN LOVE. You just gotta feel LOVE with your heart. Which for me means getting out of my head, where I spend a lot of time. Sometimes I get so inside my head that it’s hard to listen to my heart. But it’s my heart that always leads me successfully — provided it’s relaxed and softened enough to do so.

So I mentally promised that I wouldn’t let Warren’s advice go to waste (especially since it took twenty years to take hold.) I promised I would actively work to put it into practice.Then I limped away from the water, and headed back to my car.

And that’s when I heard it:

“Hennnndricks! Hennnnnn — dricks!”

I turned towards the voice, “No way! Could it be?”

But it wasn’t. Not exactly.

A big fluffy untrained puppy of some doodle sort came bounding up to me. Hendrix was his name. After Jimi of course. He’d squirmed out of his collar and was currently sniffing my skates and licking my legs. His owner, a pretty young punk rock girl came rushing over. Is it poetic symmetry to say that she resembled a young Warren? There was something familiar about her. She had the same raven razor straight hair and perfect cat’s eye lined lashes.

She thanked me as she grabbed Hendrix and fastened him back into his leash. He apparently did this a lot — not liking to be restrained. He liked to run free. Then she tugged at Hendrix to follow her down the boardwalk, reprimanding him gently.

“You can’t just run off like that, Hendry!”

And I thought: “Oh yes he can. He’s just following his big ole puppy heart.”

And maybe that’s what the human Hendricks did so many years ago. Maybe he had to follow his heart even though it took him away from Warren. She knew that, which was why she chose not to be angry at him. Because to do otherwise would be to dilute the time they had together. So she accepted him as he was.

And in that way Warren had the truest love.

The pure kind.

The kind that’s deep inside all of us once we strip away our own ego.

The kind I’m going to make a conscious effort to tap into from now on.