Posted by .

by Mariana Caplan

[adapted from Eyes Wide Open: Cultivating Discernment on the Spiritual Path©, Sounds True, 2009]

Some things just don't want to die. Much to my surprise, a little piece I published over 10 years ago, about a certain type of spiritual guy I found myself dating in my early twenties, set alight a dormant flame throughout the world. Originally published in the anthology "Radical Spirit," "Zen Boyfriends" was rapidly translated into multiple languages, and I soon learned that Zen boyfriends were found in Italy, Spain, France and even communities in Thailand and other parts of Asia.

More years on the path brought more Zen boyfriends and infinite variations on the theme, not only for myself but from my clients and from readers and seekers everywhere. "Zen Boyfriends" eventually resurrected itself as a musical produced by Oregon musician Mark Steighner, and it was finally updated and reproduced in the San Francisco Bay area by me, with musician Anastasi Mavrides and actress Suraya Keating, to sold out audiences. I hope you enjoy the snippets from the original writing and revised theater production, and please share your stories!


At a certain stage in my own spiritual development, I began to attract a new breed of men that over time I came to call "Zen boyfriends." I use the term "Zen" loosely here, because a man doesn't have to be a Zen Buddhist to fall into this category. He could be a Tibetan Buddhist, a Sufi, or even a practitioner of some obscure brand of yoga. The more rigid the tradition, the better for this type. What defines a Zen boyfriend is the manner in which he skillfully uses spiritual ideals and practices as an excuse for his terror of, and refusal to be in, any type of real relationship with a woman. He is both too identified with his balls to become a celibate monk, and at the same time too little identified with the wider implications of them to take responsibility for them. The result: a righteous, distant and very intelligent substitute for a real man.

Andrew was a great example of a Zen boyfriend. This is how a typical morning went in our love nest:

At 4:30 a.m. his alarm sounds. "Andrew, your alarm is going off."

"Press the snooze."

I oblige. Then at 4:38 it goes off again. "Andrew, get up!"

"I'm too tired."

By the fourth snooze I was wide awake, while he dozed away like a baby in arms. When he'd finally open his eyes sometime around 5:30, I was undeniably and un-spiritually pissed off. Without even a word or a glance in my direction, he would roll out of bed and head for the bathroom. I would listen with mounting rage as he gargled his Chinese herbs, did an hour of tai chi on the creaky hardwood floor, and then adjusted himself on his zafu to meditate. Often I would get up and meditate as well, but since I didn't practice the same form of meditation as he did, he said we couldn't practice together. The argument was always the same:

"Why do you set your alarm if you're not going to get up?"


This content is restricted to site members, you need a FREE membership to view the full content.

If you are an existing user, please login Click here.

New users may register below Click here.

12 Responses to “The Problem with Zen Boyfriends”

  1. Lesly

    Oh – just what I needed as I grieve over my just faded out relationship with a “Zen” boyfriend. I dither over whether to try once more -but after many hearty laughs as I read this article I think – oh no, let him go!

    It’s comforting to know I’m not the only woman who meets up with a man who “needs his space” does “not believe in monogamy” – but is furious if you give him all the space he could possibly want i.e. count him out of your space.

  2. karen

    This is very endearing and funny. So interesting how this dynamic can actually go down in a 20 year marriage too.

  3. tia4home

    Hahhaha – met them. left them. Life is short, sometimes difficult, always engaging! Some people need to live under a rock, be coddled and reassured their fears are being taken care of when in reality they are the cowards of life. Get a life gives these guys new meaning!

    A nice Jewish boy – you grew up and realized life was its encounters! Nice.

  4. allen zeesman

    I love the article. As a man, I know that one of my deepest spiritual practices is to create intimacy with my partner. Thanks for this.

  5. Susann C

    Thanks, Mariana, for naming a pattern of behavior in such an honest, and well-storied way. Spiritual holier-than-thouism AND “YOU-JUST-DON’T-GETTISM” is, of course, not just the province of men. But you nailed the male form of escape from flesh and blood intimacy and the deepest commitment to explore and face GENDER differences beautifully while taking responsibility for your complicity. Very brave, funny, and a little sad for us all.

  6. mt

    What were they looking for? In Zen? In each other? Some intimacy with Life? Ah, seek not in the seeking and ye shall find in the be-ing.

  7. Lynda Silva

    Thank you Mariana, This wise story had me screaming! then sober with having to come to terms in acceptance of myself. Yep! and not be dependent on a Zen boyfriend. Blessings, grace have saved a many a time.

  8. Layne Cutright

    Well done! Very funny!

    It was so heart warming to read your straight, tell it like it is commentary on what I call the “spiritualized ego.”

    Relationship patterns trump spiritual inclinations every time. It sure takes some doing to see through all the smoke but, it was nice to hear how you found a heart of gold without the spiritual bullshit.

    Thanks for being a highpoint in my day. Happy trails.

  9. Suzanne Arthur

    Loved reading this. Oh girl, does it resonate! Perfectly-timed humor, well done. You & your nice Jewish boy are two of my personal favorites in the Integral publications. Thanks for the giggles!

  10. Thomas Frankovich

    All barriers one may attract thru direct encounter in life are always self imposed. It is a choice. One’s ego wants to be awake; however, it also wants to witness its own destruction. To be there, with rightiousness. When one makes something right, it creates limitations in ones consciousness, where everything other than that is wrong. Stuck in the mud.

    When one has reached a certain level of awakened maturity
    there is a realization of Oneness united as One; being All that is. As such, one grocks the understanding that the real value in relating to another individual is to recognize that Love is in the Mind.

    Perhaps what you are looking for is within.

    One’s true absolute ally!

    Do not believe me… find out for oneself. Or, ask any true radical subversive nudist zen buddhist.

  11. Sam

    Hi Mariana,

    Didnt the jewish boy have the same issue recently?



Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.