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’ve been seeing a number of posts in social media lately about how everything that happens in one’s life (especially in relationships) should be seen as an opportunity to learn and grow. In other words, the posts discourage regret or sadness about past choices by suggesting that everything one has endured up to a certain point has been a teachable moment. The messages imply that if you haven’t learned something from a decision that turned out to be the wrong one that you just aren’t looking hard enough for the lesson.
Look, I’m all for learning from my mistakes and growing stronger from disappointment, but what happens if the depth of that disappointment feels like an abyss; like a hole one has fallen into by no fault of their own? But wait. We aren’t supposed to blame others for the things that happen to us, right? We always play a role. OK. So what if our fault lies in loving someone too much, seeing the potential in someone who refused to see it in themselves, or just trusting another human being to do the right thing? You see, here’s where my confusion about the lesson to be found begins. Am I supposed to learn not to love so much? Should I stop pushing to see the good in people? And how about trust? Should I be less trusting?
I know a great number of people who are jaded from relationships in which they suffered deep disappointment. For these people, the answer to most of the questions I posed above is a screaming, “Yes!” As a result of their experiences, these people do approach relationships differently than maybe they have in the past. They might stick a toe in to test the waters, maybe go knee-deep for another length of time, and maybe even make it into their waists. But they never fully submerge – and subsequently spend their lives complaining that they can’t seem to find anything real and meaningful. I guess in these cases I wonder what the value of the lesson truly is. More importantly, I wonder what part of themselves they are sacrificing as protection from future hurt and disappointment. I’m not sure the lessons are serving them well. In fact, I think what is really happening is that they are punishing themselves – and anyone else they meet – for things that happened in the past.
That which doesn’t kill us might make us stronger, but I think its ok to be broken for a while. Some things deserve to be felt, to be grieved. And that’s ok. If you’ve spent all of your energy in loving someone or something that didn’t work out, it’s probably ok to spend some energy grieving its loss. And if you can’t find a lesson in any of it, don’t let that make you feel worse. Sometimes people just don’t have the capacity to love in the same way you do. Sometimes, the lessons they think they’ve learned block them. Maybe knowing that is lesson enough.
In the end, perhaps the greatest lesson we can learn is more about ourselves than it is about any situation or person. And to that end, the most important question we can ask is whether we want to be motivated by love or motivated by fear. A seemingly simple question requires careful introspection. And living true to the answer may require courage. What will you choose? I have a feeling your answer will shape the lessons you learn.
Want to read more about fear vs. love? I found another blog that deals with this topic: https://wordfromthewell.com/2012/08/03/love-vs-fear-the-most-important-decision-youll-ever-make-and-youre-making-it-right-now/
Have you ever been with someone who knows you? “Knows me?” you might be asking. And your next thought is probably, “Of course he/she knows me. We’re in love.” But I begin this blog thinking that knowing someone – truly knowing them – might be more rare than we think.
I was recently watching an episode of my favorite TV series. The female lead character was talking to a stranger about her recent decision not to marry the man to whom she was engaged. She tells the stranger, “I realized…in four hours I would marry a man who didn’t know me.” The man’s response: “Yeah, who knows anyone? Who cares?”
And so it begs the question: how well do you really know the people you call friends; the people you say you love? How well do the people who say they love you really know you? This awareness goes well beyond a favorite color or food; it is deeper than simply understanding preferences or dislikes.
I write this fully aware of the fact that we wouldn’t want everyone we interact with on a daily basis to know everything about who we are. There are certain suitable lines to draw with strangers, co-workers, and even friends. But I wonder how many of us have at least one person who knows everything – the good, the bad and the ugly, as it were.
Perhaps the even greater question to ask ourselves is not whether we have that one person who truly knows us, but whether we are capable of sharing our authentic selves with another. It is a scary thing to be raw with another human being; to expose our strengths and weaknesses, our good qualities and our faults. There is an underlying risk in allowing someone to see through the facade and truly into what makes us tick. To do so first assumes that we know ourselves – or at least that we are willing to uncover that self with another person. We must be willing to share even the parts that might embarrass us with another; and that person must accept us without judgment or blame. A relationship like that leaves us vulnerable like no other. It leaves us open to deep hurt, and it challenges us to be better in areas where we find a need for improvement. My guess is that not everyone is up for all of that. It is much easier to settle into a more comfortable arrangement, where we find stability and contentment.
Very often in romantic movies or novels, we hear the term “soulmate” tossed around. The term leaves the hopelessly romantic looking for that perfect partner; the partner they were somehow predestined to meet. Hollywood makes it seem like the relationship with a soulmate is the perfect engagement, free of struggle or challenge because it magically works like no other. I would, argue, however that a soulmate relationship is probably just the opposite. The person with whom we share our soul has a great responsibility to help us grow, to help us love ourselves and them more deeply, and to continue to challenge us in positive ways. None of that is easy. But a true soulmate is, I believe, the one who also loves us for the effort and who celebrates with us all of the beautiful and authentic things that make us who we are. They understand our rough edges and somehow accept us in spite of them.
I read a quote online recently that said,” Some people bring out the worst in you. Others bring out the best. And then there are those remarkably rare, addictive ones who just bring out the most of everything. They make you feel so alive that you’d follow them straight into hell.”
Yeah. I want that.
I heard on the radio today that the breakup of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie actually broke the internet. I’m not sure if that’s exactly accurate, but when I heard the report I was immediately struck by it. I mean, it would take a lot of people to actually break the internet, right?
True statement or not, I have no doubt about people’s curiosity to read the gossip. What I do wonder about, however, is their motivation for being so interested. It’s not like Brad Pitt is some hot handyman in the neighborhood and now all the single women have a shot with him (and yes, I’m assuming that most news seekers in this case are women. Terrible how I’m perpetuating a stereotype, I know). But as I think about it, I believe there are probably two reasons for people’s curiosity: people are either saddened or shocked by the celebrity breakup; or people find some kind of relief in being able to relate to it.
Relationships end all the time. We’ve all known seemingly perfect couples who have called it quits for one reason or another. After all, it is so easy to judge a relationship from the outside with statements like, “Oh, they seemed so happy,” or “They were so good together.” The truth is that we never really know the secrets of a relationship; the things that happen – or don’t happen – in private. It may even be true that in some cases, one of the people in the actual relationship is struggling to understand the breakup, not sure why the person they held closest to them decided to disengage or call it quits.
While Brad and Angelina appeared to the world to be the perfect power couple – blessed with fame and fortune, and enough love to adopt children from all over the world – the media is now in the business of citing blame for the breakup. And as more and more people speculate about what happened to cause such an upheaval, more and more reasons for the split are revealed. I guess I don’t understand why there has to be a victim; why there always has to be someone blamed. I’m stuck on the basics of the story: two people who loved each other have decided that it’s not in their best interest to be together, and in the wake of their relationship stand six children of a broken home. Celebrities or not, these are still people. This is a story full of disappointment and loss. Somewhere in the middle of “happily ever after” and divorce, I bet there was also a lot of turmoil and difficult decisions. Perhaps people pay attention to the story because what looked like a strong and good partnership turned into something very ordinary and disappointing.
In addition to those who might see the sadness in the Brangelina breakup are also those who, I think, find some comfort in it. How many of us experience a breakup and are left wondering, “What could I have done differently?” Even more often, I think people begin to question themselves, making “what if” statements about losing weight, being more patient, having more sex, etc. But to witness the breakup of a couple that was so celebrated seems to say, “Look, even Brad and Angelina aren’t perfect.” And in that statement, there’s an opportunity for all of us to be just a little kinder to ourselves. I mean if they couldn’t make it with all their money and privilege, how will we? Right?
When this story’s 15 minutes of fame are over, the truth is that there will still be a family affected. With a divorce rate in the United States somewhere around 50%, a break-up like this – along with Taylor Swift songs and country music – remind those of us who have had failed relationships that we are not alone. And once again we are reminded that while money is great to have, it can’t buy us happiness and it sure as hell doesn’t buy love.
When was the last time someone said, “I need you”? How did it make you feel? I will make a presumption here and just assume that the sentiment made you feel really good. It is, after all, nice to be needed; to feel like someone relies on you for something important. But I think there’s a better thing to say to someone. That thing is: “I want you.”
For all of those whose minds ventured immediately to sex, let me call you back to my point. I don’t mean “I want you” in any way other than to admit that there are many choices in life. To be wanted among so many other choices is, in my opinion, far more powerful than being needed.
Why do I make this distinction? It’s simple, really. I think we live in a world of disposable people; where we value a relationship or a person when they serve some kind of purpose for us. Maybe they consistently counsel our decisions in a rational way; maybe they have a truck we know we can use to move furniture; maybe they help us pay the rent or can be counted on for a fun night out on the town. Whatever the need, that person fulfills it for us. And so we stick with them, have good times with them, and continue to rely upon them to fulfill that need (and maybe others). But what happens when that need is no longer a need? What happens to our relationship with that person?
I used to have a good friend who would make the distinction all the time between a want and a need. When he would do something nice, I’d say, “Oh, you don’t have to do that.” And he would reply, “You’re right, I don’t have to. I want to.” Or, in other words, “I don’t need to, I want to.” See the difference? The wanting to is what makes the action nice. The wanting to be a support, the wanting to be present, the wanting to stick around – that’s what matters. Anyone can stick around when they need something. True friendship – or even love – is what exists when all needs are removed and you decide you still like the person simply for who they are.
I don’t know about you, but I’d take being valued for me over being valued for what I can provide any day of the week. Sure, you might love me for many reasons. But at the end of the day, if it’s not because of WHO I am (vs. what I provide), I’m pretty sure my life is better off without you.
You know, it’s funny. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how my words, actions, or some combination of the two have the power to make someone feel special. I’ve also been thinking about how my words, actions, or combination of the two – even when well-intentioned – might make someone feel burdened. You see, what I’ve come to realize is that some people –no matter how much we like them – have trouble accepting love. In those cases, short texts that say, “I miss you,” or “I can’t wait to see you,” somehow become guilt triggers. It’s as if my well-intentioned little blip of love somehow becomes an obligation that the person isn’t sure he/she deserves, knows what to do with, or can embrace.
What am I talking about? You’re probably thinking, “Man, I would love someone to text me just to say they are thinking about me.” Well, me too! But I’ve learned over the years that not everyone is like me. And sometimes the baggage people carry is a brand we’d never recognize, even on our worst day.
If you are one of the people who feels anxiety when an “I miss you” is expressed, I can only offer my perspective as a possible way to lessen those negative feelings. My advice is this: take what is said at face value. If I take a moment to say, “I miss you,” it’s not because I want you to say it back (although if you miss me, it would be nice to know). I also am not saying it to make you feel guilty. As a person who literally goes crazy without an ability to express myself, I am simply releasing an emotion that is weighing me down. I am taking an otherwise crappy feeling and turning it into a positive energy in the world. It’s nothing more than a condensed version of: “Hey you – over there – even if I just saw you last night, I am missing time in your presence and I really hope we can at some point, without asking you to commit to a time or place, reconnect.” Moreover, it’s saying, “Even though I am super busy and you are super busy, I am thinking about you and I wanted you to know.”
In addition to the above, I also ask those who shy away from affection to remember that it takes a certain amount of courage to express something like, “I miss you,” or “I’m thinking about you.” The person who initiates that kind of sentiment is trusting that you’ll place at least a little value on what’s in their heart. And so while it may make you uncomfortable to say something similar back, I encourage you to at least find something to say in response (although I’d avoid “thank you”). After all, it’s been said that our legacy is determined by the value of a person’s relationships. And any relationship – with too much neglect – is destined to fail. So step just a little out your comfort zone to appreciate that. Even if you don’t feel like you are, you might just be special to someone. And that’s pretty awesome.