The Habit of Love

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Like many, I am a huge fan of the show This is Us. More often than I could say, a line from the show causes me to pause, to think, to reflect, to wonder. Last night’s finale was no different. But before this turns into a blog about a TV show, let me shift my focus to the line that prompted this blog. One character to another said, “Next time you tell me that you love me, make sure it’s not out of habit.”

People who love me have heard me ask, “Why do you love me?” I don’t ask that question because I want to hear a list of things someone else admires in me. Nor do I want to hear the person go on and on about the qualities they see in me that make me outstanding to them in some way. Rather, I ask the question for the very reason the line in the show was stated. That is, because I believe it is important to know why you love someone. After all, if love is an active verb (as I’ve often written it is), shouldn’t we be actively aware of what it is in a person that makes us love them?

I have to wonder how many people are in relationships where the cause of their love is somehow lost. Certainly, as people grow and change, some of the qualities we fall in love with in the beginning of a relationship may also change – in both good and bad ways. Therefore, instead of simply getting in the habit of routinely saying “I love you,” day after day, month after month, year after year, I think it is important to reflect on our love for another person from time to time. I believe that reflection is an act of love in itself. It gives us a much greater awareness of why we love someone well beyond the reasons we fell for them in the first place. And then, when we say “I love you,” it is a confident statement rooted in the present, instead of something buried in habit and obligation for which the cause may no longer even be known.

Lots of people stay together or even get back together because they share a history. And certainly, those shared experiences bond us to another person in a meaningful way. But like the character on the show, I don’t want someone to stick around because times were once good or because they once saw something in me worth loving. Love simply cannot be that complacent. Moreover and perhaps even more importantly, I believe that active reflection about love leads to gratitude. And so when I feel annoyed because he forgot to call, or because he left a spoon in the sink, my active reflection about why I love him reminds me that the spoon wasn’t that important after all.

Three words said casually between people who’ve been together for a while can often feel routine. We get in the habit of saying them almost mindlessly. But I’d argue that the words “I love you” probably make us more vulnerable than anything we say to another person. When we say them, I believe they should be said with intention and without doubt that love is an action, promoted by something we can identify and appreciate. So tell people you love them. But once in a while tell them why. That why is a celebration not only of the love that exists, but also of the people who make it come alive.

I’ll Have the Lobster … Maybe

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Indecision is a cruel thing to suffer. It could be as simple as choosing a menu item or the color of a tie. We go back and forth and back and forth, weighing the attributes of each choice. This flow of thought becomes ridiculously maddening. Imagine how that struggle deepens when indecision carries over from something as simple as dinner to something as complicated as relationships.

I, myself, have been in many situations where a choice was a difficult thing to make. In some cases, I was able to prolong my indifference in a way that the choice was just eventually made for me. But I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of having choices made FOR me. Instead, I prefer to maintain control. I prefer to decide. And so, what do we do about indecision?

Reasons for indecision are varied, but I believe people have the most difficulty when they walk the line between what they feel obligated to do and what they want to do. Moreover, indecision often lies not in the true value of each choice, but in the value we place (deservingly or not) on what is easy or comfortable. As humans, we don’t always like to stretch – our palates, our minds, our hearts. And so the “comfort zone” is an easy place where the decisions we’ve made in the past live. These are the foods, vacation spots, job opportunities, and even people that we’ve already tried on for size. And in the process of that trial, we’ve deemed them safe (or at least tolerable). The risk in committing to something new is that we have to learn all over again whether or not we like that something. And, if we don’t, we have to be able to embrace the decision as a learning process, not as a regret.

I think every reader knows exactly what I mean. To put it in simple terms, consider that one restaurant; the place where you always order the same exact thing off the menu.  We all have that place. And we all do the same thing. We look at the menu, we see some things that look delicious, we struggle to make a decision, and then we pick the same old thing. Why? The answer is not simply that we know that dish is good. It is also because we’re afraid we’ll be disappointed if we pick something new and it just isn’t as tasty as our regular meal. We are afraid of the potential regret.

Decision-making is hard. When presented with two (or more) choices, making a decision means that we take a risk on one thing over the others. It means that some things fall off to the side. In that way, we have to not only be comfortable with deciding, we also have to be ok with letting some things go. And letting things go is even harder.

And so, what do we do? I read a very interesting article recently called “Resolving Indecision” where the author differentiates very clearly about choices and decisions. He says:

“To address indecision, I’d like to first make a distinction between decisions and choices, because I think people get themselves into trouble conflating the two. I think that it is best to think of choices as preferences that stem from subjective personal tastes. A decision, on the other hand, is a commitment to action that occurs after one becomes aware of their choice. For example, yesterday I chose between Snickers and M&M’s, and upon realizing that I wasn’t in the mood for caramel I made the decision to buy the M&M’s. Choices are often difficult, but I suspect that most of the time people lean at least slightly one way or the other, and that if push came to shove they could state a preference.”

And so, maybe the struggle lies not in the decision (which is the implementation of choice), but in actually knowing ourselves well enough to distinguish our preferences. What is challenging is to think about these preferences outside of anything else – free from obligation, free from familiarity, free from a fear of regret. Do we really know what we like? Can we identify the things that make us not just content, but truly happy? Most importantly, do we believe we deserve that happiness? I suspect that answering those questions is where the real work lies. Any decision after that is a piece of cake.









Walking the Path

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roadEveryone knows the story of Dorothy, the optimistic young woman who makes her way to Emerald City on a road paved with yellow bricks. Recently, I was walking my own path when Dorothy’s adventure came to mind. In thinking about her journey, I came to think more broadly about paths in general – and about the many analogies that paths might present.

When one thinks about a path, I assume it is a common understanding that the path has a beginning or starting point and an end or destination. Paths are generally constructed as a connector between one destination and another; a way to guide someone from Point A to Point B with as little disruption as possible. But as Dorothy herself found, there are more often than not disruptions on a path.

The path forward can sometimes become unclear, possibly grown over with brush, or disrupted by broken cobblestones. When this break in the path happens, it is easy for us to retreat; to turn and go back from where we came. And I guess that’s sometimes ok. The places we have already been are known to us; even when they are not exactly pleasant, we know we can survive these places because we’ve already lived in them. We know what the expectations in those places are; we know how people will treat us and what will be the “norm.”  To venture out in a new direction, to continue on a path when it becomes emotionally or physically or mentally challenging, requires a certain amount of bravery. Like the lion on Dorothy’s path, we will have to find our courage as we venture into something new.

Certainly, there are skills we can use to our advantage when navigating a path, especially when it is unfamiliar. To prevent an ankle sprain, we avoid the uneven terrain; to keep from slipping on the path, we wear flat ruby slippers. Of course I am speaking in simple terms. But more broadly, I just mean that we are best served when we are able to use the lessons we’ve learned in the past to guide us into anything new.  Like the scarecrow, we must find our brain on the path and use the things we’ve already learned to guide our decision-making.

But perhaps the most important part of any journey is the heart we bring to it. How jealous the tin man would be of we who have hearts able to hold limitless amounts of joy and adventure! Of course, we must be open to the possibilities that lie before us; we must be willing to stick with a path even when it becomes a challenge. And what if, three-quarters of the way to our intended destination, our path just ends? Do we turn in retreat? Or do we envision what lies before us and push on, creating a path all our own?

I have known many people whose strictness to a path has left them disappointed or even shattered. But if the path represents our lives, wouldn’t we be better served to think of the pavement simply as a guide? I personally find great joy in stepping off the path every now and then to celebrate achievements, express love, or even consider another route. It is in the wilderness that surrounds my path that I often find the greatest inspiration, the most pleasant surprises, or learn the most poignant lessons (yes, that WAS poison ivy!).

My point is this: it is important for me to have a sense of what I want to accomplish in my life. I set goals. I meet deadlines. But I also know that nothing is certain; situations change, jobs disappear, relationships end. So instead of tying myself so rigidly to a path that points from Point A to Point B, I choose to use my courage, my brain, and my heart as a compass.

I follow a wonderful writer on Facebook whose name is Victoria Erickson. As timing would have it, as I was prepping to write this blog, her post today was this: “If you can see the path or plan before you, it’s likely not your path. Take this step right here. Then decide on the next. Do what feels right. Not what you think is right. What feels right.”

My gut is rarely wrong. I think that’s what Erickson is trying to say. When we make decisions that feel right, when we are brave enough to be true to our hearts, our path will always lead us home.