02/01/2012 09:27 am ET | Updated Apr 02, 2012

A Sabbatical From Men

It was on a beautiful spring afternoon in New York that a close friend introduced me to someone she thought would be the perfect man for me. He was creative, successful, soulful, sensual, and single, and he was into me.

I had lived in the city before, with my mother and sister, but now, because I was on my own, I felt like it was a different country. Without the haven of my family, I felt very exposed and unprotected. It was as if I were standing in a house in which the floors had not yet been laid.

A part of me was longing to be embraced by a loving, warm man so that I could feel safe and cherished. I thought that the presence of a man in my life was the only way to feel truly secure. I deeply desired the intimacy, connection, and joy of a relationship, as well as the solid foundation, and I anticipated that within the stable framework of "us," I could start to lay the planks for my new life.

I believed that this man and I could have all that I had dreamed of. Being with him gave me a lot of the things I was looking for, and we began to build what I thought was real intimacy. He was attentive and interesting, strong and seemingly very present, and the warmth of his presence felt like the family I missed. He loved the arts and theater, as well as music, dance, and food. He had an inner depth that called to me powerfully. In his eyes, I felt accepted and beautiful, free to be myself. I felt that he knew me -- really saw me -- and that was the greatest aphrodisiac of all. I started to open my heart and take him in.

One night, I called my mother from his apartment, telling her how happy I was. I said, "Mom, I think he is the one!" I wanted him to be the one -- for me, for her, and for my whole family, who so wanted me to marry. I was pinning a lot of hopes on this man, expecting him to fill the void in me, the part that felt incomplete and feared to be alone. I was already projecting the happily-ever-after. And, my, was I happy! Was I moving in with him in my mind? Yes. Was I decorating our imaginary home? Yes. All of which is to say that I was going about our relationship too fast, and in the wrong way. I kept looking to him to fill the emptiness. I wanted the experience of being significant to a man, so I could feel valued and whole. My fantasies were headed for a collision with reality. Little did I know that this man was deeply wounded from a childhood with a domineering mother and from a bitter divorce, after which he'd directed all his affections toward his young son. Emotionally, he wasn't available at all.

Six months into our relationship, he had a health scare that required surgery. He told me about it one night as we were lying in bed. He suddenly felt vulnerable, out of control, and very frightened. I, of course, wanted to comfort and nurture him.

He had specifically asked me not to go to the hospital with him, so instead I went to his house the day after, bringing food, games, DVDs, and me. We lay together on his bed eating and talking, and he eventually fell asleep in my arms. My heart was wide open, and the feeling was tender, calm, and sweet. That was the moment when, if words had been spoken, I would have said, "I love you." But something stopped me. It was the fear that if I said it, I would scare him and he would leave me.

What happened after he woke up was a classic example of mismatched expectations. He was anticipating a visit from his family, and I knew it was better for him to be alone with them. So I went back to my apartment, where I waited for him to call and ask me to return and spend the night. Instead, he called and said it was better for him to rest by himself. "Of course," I said. "I understand." But the truth was I didn't understand. What went wrong? I asked myself. Why doesn't he want me to be with him?

It took a long time before I realized that I had come up against this man's own closed heart. Perhaps seeing his domineering mother had triggered old fears and hurts. Whatever the reason, when he didn't ask me to come back, I took it personally and felt rejected. If I were to write his script, these are the words he would say to make me understand: I see your love, I feel your love, but truly, darling, right now there is no place in me to receive it.

That was the beginning of the end. I had lost my trust in the relationship. I never talked about my feelings; instead, I chose to withdraw. When I saw him again, something had changed. The connection seemed different, and neither of us knew how to restore it.

In this man, I saw my father and other men I had known who were shut down to love. Was it fear of being controlled? Was it feeling of unworthy or undeserving? Or simply the reluctance to risk feeling pain? It takes a lot of courage to make ourselves vulnerable to love, to keep opening up when every part of us wants to shut down. It takes mutual commitment and a willingness to sacrifice our world as we know it. We had reached a point where we were each unwilling to sacrifice and unable to let the other in.

I had to course-correct. I realized that if I wanted to have a healthy, happy relationship with a man, I had to have more of me intact. I knew how to merge -- that wasn't a problem -- but I didn't really know how to stand on my own solid foundation.

The transformation that took place after that realization was quite amazing. I decided I was going to take a sabbatical from men and pull my energy back to me. Whatever part of me believed that I couldn't feel happy and complete without a man's love was going to come under my care and receive my full attention now.

He and I had one more conversation, in which we both admitted that things had shifted, and we agreed to put some distance between us. After that, with no more distractions, no man, my family far away on the West Coast, I had the space to focus on my life by myself. Having been a caretaker all my life, it was a little strange at the beginning: There was no one to take care of but me.

Have you ever seen one of those Advent calendars that children are given before Christmas? Every day you open a little window that has a picture behind it. It can be magical as you wait to see what will come next. That's how I felt‚ as if I were opening little windows into myself, gaining strength and confidence with each opening. My windows were hiding so many inner riches!

One day I discovered that I could really enjoy being by myself if I had an environment around me that was nurturing and uplifting -- so I began to keep my favorite music playing, music that made me happy. Around the same time, I was looking for an assistant to help me with my work, and I realized I needed to choose someone who was joyful and caring and understood my sensibility. I found a young Argentinean man who made even filing fun. And I found my own rhythm and respected it, so that in the middle of a writing session in my apartment, if my body needed move, I would take myself out for a walk or a spin class. I learned to listen.

Writing my book became my way to top those inner riches. Through the goddesses, I was beginning to see my own gifts: my wisdom, my creativity, my love. I realized I had not said no to having a relationship with a man -- I had said a big YES to myself, and the windows were popping open.

In one of his dialogues, Plato talks about the "divine design" for each of us -- the idea that every person is destined for a task that no one else can accomplish, a path that no one else can take. Writing my first book became, for me, part of that divine design, an it marked the beginning of my new life as a caretaker of my gifts, filling my own cup first so that I could share with others. I copied a quote from Saint Catherine of Siena and kept it on my desk to remind me of the importance of being fully myself: "Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire."

Have you ever taken a break from dating? What did it teach you about yourself?

This post is excerpted from Agapi's book "Unbinding the Heart" released by Hay House February 1, 2012.

To read more about how to unbind your heart at where you can download the guided meditation.

For more by Agapi Stassinopoulos, click here.