Can You Learn About Fitness From Unrequited Love?

When I was 20, I was out of my first relationship that had lasted 4 years.

I was living with my dad in Japan and had the cutest fat little baby girl who looked like a brown Shirley Temple. I even called her Charlee Temple. I  lived in a beautiful compound in the mountains about 3 hours from Tokyo and 20 minutes from the beach. I was working as a nonprofit volunteer with a lot of other young people and enjoying a completely new country and job.

That’s where I met Mike. Mike fell in love.  And instantly, he went to work.


My Charlee Temple

And boy did he work! Mike would take on jobs for me. Mike would cover my ass when I asked him. Mike composed songs for me. One of which I still have floating around somewhere. The lyrics will make you cringe so good.

Mike wrote me stacks of love letters. I quote: “Even if your skin melted off and you were paralyzed for life, I would still love you.” The other example had something to do with a hockey team and gang rape, so we’ll leave that one out.

Mike learned all my favorite things. He bought me lychees, and the new The Corrs CD. Mike adored my daughter. He would play with her and stayed up late with me when she was sick and puking all over the place. Mike babysat so I could go to the gym (EPIC!). Mike found omens that we should be together. The wind swept my luggage tag to his feet, so when he looked down, he saw my name just as he was thinking of me.


20 year old Joy!

I shut Mike down three times that year. He was a great friend and the nicest guy, but I wasn’t attracted to him at all. I enjoyed his company and since we worked together, it was almost impossible to NOT be friends. But I made it clear that I had no romantic interest in him. Three times. But Mike wouldn’t let up.

Sure, I was flattered. A bit floored even. He worked SO hard for me.

Each time we went back to being friendly, it would start all over again. His friends told him to give it up and let it go.

Eventually, he left broken-hearted when I finally got together with someone else. I remember the last time I saw him right before he left. He knocked on the door to leave me a letter crying. I felt horrible. I actually stood at the window watching him walk away with his suitcase and guitar.

We were a cute pair

We were a cute pair

I never forgot the patient effort and overwhelming WORK he put into trying to get me to be with him. I often wondered about the the strength of feeling that compelled him to work so hard for what got him nothing. He wanted an outcome: us to be together. And he did everything right. He later told me how much thought and consideration went into his efforts, how he cried and planned and prayed, asked advice from his friends, and took time to learn my personality, likes, and dislikes. But it didn’t get him me – what he wanted most.

Why didn’t it work? Well, that’s easy to see. He wasn’t what I wanted. Or needed. So all his effort was going to go nowhere.

What does this story have to do with fitness?

Are you “Mike” to your body? Are you expending time, effort, patience, and getting nowhere? Are you chasing an illusive “lover,” aka your goals?

I hear the term “listen to your body” all the time. We all agree we need to “listen” to our body. I mean every yoga teacher on the planet tells us that. But what does that really mean? Listening to your body implies that you are in some kind of back and forth with it. A relationship. There’s you putting a new supplement in your mouth or trying out the latest glute activation, and then your body lets you know what it likes and dislikes.

We all want THE ANSWER, the plan that will get us to a body we envision or a performance we want– our goals. We list the goals, the resolutions, lay out a schedule, pay the money, and make plans for our efforts. But what if, like Mike, it’s not what our body needs.

Because we didn’t ask it what it needed.

Listening is a vague concept in this context. Think about it. We can’t listen to what our body says if we never ask it anything. If we don’t put ourselves in an inquiring, interested state about OURSELVES, how can we hear what is going on?

A couple of months ago, I was at a stress peak. It was hard to recognize when I was in the midst of it. In fact, I did a pretty shitty job of recognizing it.

I was jittery. I slept badly and often woke in the middle of the night. I bit my nails. I could only focus for short periods of time when I sat down to work. My skin was breaking out more.

It was hard to be objective about how my own stress was exhibiting when I was in the middle of it. I felt so nervous and frustrated. In hindsight, it’s easier to pinpoint what was going on, but when we get so focused on THE ANSWER, THE ANSWER, FIND THE ANSWER, FIX, FIX, FIX we can forget to ask any questions at all! Without a good question, the “answer” you pick could be a hit or miss. You might find what works, but you also might not. And you won’t know the difference till further down the road in another “Why isn’t this working” state and begin your search for the next answer. And the next. And then years later, you are still chasing answers and not racking up accomplishments.

Instead of nodding and agreeing as you read, sit down and write a list right now of what your body is telling you. Anything. Here’s mine as of this morning:

  • My left hamstring is throbbing a bit
  • I need to go to the bathroom
  • I feel rested
  • Sitting to the side while typing makes my shoulders cramped
  • My mouth is tensed

The more you can be aware of your body, the easier it is to find “the answer” to get what you want aka “the goal.” The only way to get a good answer is to ask a good question.

That really is the dilemma, isn’t it. Here we have so much information, all the “answers” floating around, but which one to pick? We all know that exercise and diet recommendations should suit the individual and the right context etc etc. But how to know what is right for you?

By enhancing the quality of your observations.

By asking more questions, so you can then learn to ask better ones. The sooner you can ask the right question, the sooner you can find the right answer.

Too often we try to change our body through exercise, supplements and diet without asking it what it needs. If we can’t give it what it needs to change, we can’t effect change.

As you walk around today, think about what your body is telling you. As you lift, climb stairs, pick up the laundry basket, drive (do you lean to one side?), be aware of how you do it. Do you start sitting with good posture and slowly digress as the day gets longer? Do you breathe deep? When you work out do you pay attention to how you feel? Do you know which muscles you are working and do you feel them?  You can work hard, you can push limits that get you progress continually if you build your awareness.

You know what they say about basics. Everyone needs the basics right? That’s your stuff about basic strength, linear progression, understanding macros, utilizing cardio. That’s the foundation. Then comes your growth in fine tuning all of that to get specific results for specific circumstances. That’s where stuff like specific supplements, over-reaching cycles, or meal timing might apply. A good coach is just someone who knows what, when and how something would apply, and can recognize and implement. That is built with experience, awareness, and constant learning. Just like a successful romance. A suitor might know you like white wine, but your husband is the one that knows you like Moscato Spumante, and only in the summer.

I took a muay thai class this week. Something I haven’t done in a long time. It put me in a position to be very aware of how tight and tense I carry myself. How uncoordinated I am. I would hold my breath and “stay tight”, like I did in lifting when in this context I needed to do the opposite. I needed to be loose, fluid and coordinated to spar. Having to do something less predictable and different than lifting exposed plenty of weaknesses that you can’t see doing the same thing over and over, or being in the same situations. It heightened my awareness. That was the biggest boon I got out of it. That really is what being “athletic” and well-rounded means. Being able to physically adapt to a variety of tasks. As someone who trains to look good, move well and be healthy, (and being past the “beginner” stage physically) it was just what I needed. That’s my state of mind right now with my own fitness and exercise.

Don’t be like Mike. Working, working, working, and getting nothing. All that effort and time and money spent to make your body do what you want. All the WORK to try and “GET IT TO LOVE YOU.”

There was nothing Mike could do to change my mind despite how well he paid attention. But you can change how your body responds to your efforts through better awareness, and better questions. There is no reason to be frustrated with your efforts.

Don’t look for better answers, ask better questions.

“Frustration is the realm of the helpless. You are not helpless,” my friend Oliver Vadnais once told me.

You are not Mike.


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  1. AngelaN says:

    Had the same epiphany a few weeks ago. I added volume to my training, during med school finals, while I was trying to cut a bit of fat. I am about to get my MD, and already a trauma spectrum therapy practitioner… I should have known better, right? The moment I slack a bit on the habits that keep my awareness sharp, my default “fix it” mentality takes over. I’m back to being Mike with myself 😉

    Muay Thai sounds great! I’d love to go back to martial arts, but don’t think my SIJ would agree with it.

    You have a gorgeous little one, btw!!

    • Angela,

      I have SIJ pain too, and you would be amazed how good it feels with I do stuff like Zumba and Muay Thai. Maybe the requirement to move in ways its not used to is more beneficial than we realize. Glad you could relate to the post.

  2. Gretchen says:

    This is really beautiful…. I’m headed into one of those tumultuous Big Change periods, and was just contemplating what I need to do to ensure I stay grounded and sane through the next few months. This post is a great reminder to keep checking in with myself, especially when I think I’ve got it all figured out.

  3. I am mike. And somehow I will make you love me. I will build a posterior chain that you can’t refuse…..

  4. Fantastic article Joy. And funny you mention Muay Thai …

    3 years ago I was lifting, running and training MT 10+ hours a week total – while also working full time in a new job, studying part time and having significant marital issues all at the same time. Talk about being a recipe for burnout. I simply ignored all the signs because I simply didn’t recognise them – until my body just shut down from nervous/endocrinal fatigue. It’s taken me a long, long time to recover.

    “Listening to your body” is such a friggin’ cliche in the strength/fitness field – but till your article I’ve never seen anyone actually spell out what it means, with the kind of things you need to be on the look out for and pay attention to and hopefully ‘catch’ before they escalate.

    Again, great job.

  5. Im curious Do you still have any of your symptoms or are you almost 100% sure it was due to stress? Could it be lack of nutrients in diet at all? Or imbalanced diet, not enough whole foods etc? The reason I ask is because I get those exact symptoms when I get lazy with my diet and not eating fruit and veggies, but now I am thinking maybe my hair falling out, pimples, bad sleeping, etc. could be stress and not diet related?! What do you think? Cheers joy! Love your site

  6. Ps: I realised I can “cheat” with my food as much as I want and not have any weight issues so long as I have my calories and macros worked out.., I can eat whatever I want. But now the last six months of eating quick processed foods is catching up to me snd I’m not feeling and performing well. I also have been getting a lot of joint inflammation and all these random pains and aches. What is your honest opinion on whether or not micronutrients and food choices affect all these things?

    • It’s about nutrients at the end of the day. Your small intestine can’t “tell” whether its a “good” or “bad” food per se, but once broken down, the nutrient content of the food is important. Hence the caveat that you should make most of your food choices healthy or whole ones. That is important for sure.

  7. Alana – To answer your question (presuming it was directed at me), improving my diet had a SIGNIFICANT role to play in me getting healthy again. I always used to eat for appearance and performance, focusing on getting the right macros etc – but never really consciously ate for ‘health’. I had no problem remaining lean, gaining muscle and looked ‘in shape’. But when the total stress in my life escalated, and then sustained for a period of time, my body broke down. First inside, then outside.

    My biggest learning through this period is that you can’t really compartmentalise yourself – you are body, mind and spirit integrated and one affects the other. Improving my diet alone would no doubt have helped me, but I also implemented some training and lifestyle strategies that helped accelerated my recovery. I now feel better than ever – inside and out.

    Three great resources to get you started:

    1. Minding Your Mitochondria: Dr. Terry Wahls at TEDxIowaCity (watch it on Youtube)

    You mentioned processed food. I was guilty of too much as well – as long as my gym numbers were improved and I looked good (ie, six pack lean) I didn’t put much thought into my eating. Then I watched this. This clip changed how I looked at diet completely.

    2. Paul Chek – The ‘Last 4 Doctors You Will Ever Need’ ebook.

    Check can be a bit ‘woo woo’ for many, but his basic advice was absolutely spot on for me. Really worth buying the book if you think it might help. Here is a post from his blog that gives you an idea of his methods (skip to the second half of the post) – he refers to it as your ‘sex energy’ but it’s really your general life energy.

    3. John Meadows – The Adrenal Fatigue Cure:

    Many people, include some medical doctors, scoff at the concept of adrenal fatigue. But my personal view is that it is real and that I had it – and implementing some of the things in this article really helped.

    Sorry for the long post – I get really excited about this stuff. I’m now in my 30s and healthier, happier and stronger than I ever was in in 20s. Hope some of this helped.


  8. I feel pretty bad for mike.

  9. I feel really bad for Mike too. Hope he’s doing ok now. R u friends, yes?

  10. I love reading your blog and you really a good writer. I love to eat! but my awful eating habits makes me feel depressed. I am aware of it before and I’m fighting my own desire to eat more. I am already embarrassed of what i am doing. Can you help me how to overcome it?

  11. Your fitness advice is pretty good, however there’s an old saying that goes along the lines of,

    “Don’t ask a fish on how to become a better fisherman.”

    “Why didn’t it work? Well that’s easy to see. He wasn’t what I wanted. Or needed. So all his effort was going to go nowhere.”

    The reason it didn’t workout was because Mike made himself way too available. It is an undesired characteristic, a weakness in human evolution, and like most women you picked it up and immediately realized he wasn’t what you wanted or needed. Mike was infatuated with you because he couldn’t have you. Even if you were to force yourself into loving Mike, there’s a good chance that someone else could come along and control him because he leaves himself open for control. There is no security in that kind of relationship.

    Had mike been juggling several girls simultaneously and had you as one of his prospects, you guys would’ve definitely ended up hooking up. You would’ve been pissed and called him an asshole but the attraction would be there. At least you knew what you were getting with “asshole” Mike. He wanted you at the time, for one night, and not for eternity.

    That’s the difference.

  12. Everything is very open with a clear explanation of
    the issues. It was definitely informative. Your site is extremely helpful.
    Thanks for sharing!

  13. LOL @imnotmike. The “friendzone” is an invention of entitled men who objectify women, thinking they deserve whoever they want because they try. That’s not the way life works. We all work hard, yet we’re not all millionaires. Joy repeatedly told this man what was up. He was not conned into being a good friend. He behaved like a good friend because it suited his motives.


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