Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Gestures Of Love

Barbara: It feels like a natural segue for me to leapfrog from Happy Anniversary! to another favourite topic of mine: different expressions of love.

Many years ago, a friend lent me a non-fiction book she thought was really fascinating. I can’t for the life of me remember what the book was called, but I still very much remember the subject matter. It explored the relationship between how we express love to others and how we want love expressed to us. The authors pinpointed some classic expressions of love. If I remember correctly, they were: offering a helping hand or acts of kindness, giving gifts or love-tokens, uttering words of love and encouragement, and (apparently favourite expression for the average male) sex.

My friend, Charlotte––as well as being very loving with words and encouragement––is queen of the gifts or tokens. Something I’ve never been very good at myself. It doesn’t matter how small the event, Charlotte will find some sweet gift to acknowledge it. You had a good meeting with a producer? She’ll leave a card in the mailbox, patting you on the back. You feel a bit under-the-weather? A bouquet of flowers will land on the doorstep. In all our years of friendship, I don’t think I’ve ever even thought of making these kinds of gestures (beyond the obvious birthdays and hospital stays), although I am repeatedly touched and amazed that she does. Deb, while great with gifts too, is the fiercest encourager of anything you do, might do, think about doing, or have done (as you can see by her many welcome pats on the back here). My husband … well, you can just guess which gift he keeps on giving.

We know them all, right? The person who cooks a freezer-full of food when someone is in need; the strong silent type who putters around the house doing chores; the cheerleader who supports everything people do; the kisser and nuzzler; the leaver of little treasures on the bedside table and little notes of endearment in lunch boxes. What complicates the premise––according to the book––is that most of us offer our love in the exact way we most want to receive it, but often our love-gestures––surprise, surprise––don’t necessarily match up with our beloved’s ideals of love.

In all the years since I read this book, I still find myself thinking about this core idea. Is it true? Do we express outwardly what we most desire ourselves? Do we know the essence of love so well (the feeling of it, the missing it when it’s not there), but then not understand what actually makes it tick? Because it ticks on a slightly different metronome for each of us? And, maybe most importantly, do we sometimes not know it’s love because it’s offered up in a way we don’t “recognize”? I mean, let’s say someone’s ideal expression of love is sex, and this person and his beloved are in a tough situation, and this someone reaches out for sex to express love and be comforted by love, but his partner wants words, needs to talk it through, is repelled and offended by the thought of sex at this of all times, wonders how he can be so selfish right now, and he is left reeling, wondering how words can possibly ever soothe this pain or bring the two of them closer together. And they both find themselves hurt and disoriented because they each want to express love and, sadly, feel rejected by their lover’s gesture because … they don’t recognize it for what it is. I mean, does this sound familiar? Truth be told, it does to me … uh, I mean, to my friend * whistles nonchalantly *.

Anyway, I’ve thought about my own love expressions-slash-needs and, while I can see myself in the wordsmith and the cheerleader, these gestures don’t necessarily capture my personal idyll. I’ve actually come to realize that the love-gift that I offer most wholeheartedly, most lovingly and however imperfectly, is my gift of listening. When I realized this, I had to consider the idea for a while and ponder how it reflected back to me as a need. And then it hit me: it’s because it’s so important to me to be heard.

That, my friends, was a moment of truth. What’s yours?

Deb: And today I will call upon my dear Barb to give me the gift of not expecting me to respond in a coherent way to this. I love this post and I have so much to say in the face of it. But I have been suffering a migraine since noon and it is not giving way to words, I am afraid. So I will take a win on the fact that I could read this and comprehend this and be motivated to express myself around it. But given the givens, I will ask for Barb’s gift. Let me leave it at this. Inspired but unable to express. I am a bee-stung head looking for relief.

Barbara: I hear you, Deb!! Poor thing. (Maybe you can weigh in on the comments-section when you feel better.) In light of Deb’s migraine, I’d still love to hear your thoughts.


  1. First and foremost, let me stock Deb's bedside table with a bottle of Excedrine Migraine, the makings of warm compresses to lay over her eyes, a big bottle of water (stay hydrated!), and a bottle of lavender oil (or peppermint oil if you prefer) to dab on her pillow case. Oh, and I'll pull the shades and make sure your fluffiest, softest blankets are pulled up over you. Do you want me to work the shiatsu points in your hands and wrists?

    OK, onto Barbara's stuff. On both giving and receiving, I'm a snuggly cuddler. OK, let's face it, I'm a hugslut. I need the touchy feely stuff BIGTIME. I NEED cuddly snuggliness.

    On the giving love front, I also tend to be the one who sits with someone after they've had surgery, goes to the ER with someone in an emergency, takes care of someone's animals and gets their mail in while they're out of town, and stuff like that. I just putter for folks. *shrugs* Seems being useful to someone is better than watching helplessly.

    Oh, and my son rolls his eyes and sighs over the fact that when we're shopping I'm always saying, "Oh! That reminds me of...." or "Soandso would like that!" The reason he finds this tedious is because the things I've found that make me think of someone who would like them are girliegirl things like a fairy princess crown for A's youngest daughter or a pair of earrings that make me think of S.

  2. Oh, and I forgot to mention that I like to craft things for people. When I'm making something for someone, I'm thinking about that person while I'm making it, praying for them, and stuff like that. When I craft something, it's made with yarn or fabric or beads but with love woven in. And, except for the beadwork, pretty much everything else I craft is soft and fluffy which goes back to the whole snuggly cuddly thing. ;)

  3. I think that for me the best Gesture of love that I can give would be the gift of helping out when someone needs me.I have had to help out my grandmother recently because my grandfather has had some heart troubles so I have really had to step in and be there for them both. I didn't want her to go through everything by herself so I was and am there for her.So that would be what I can give to some one to show that I love them,that and just being their for people. Great post,this one really made me think for a while.

    PS:Hope you feel better Deb. I hope that your head stops killing you.Miraine's are such a pain in the ass. Hope you feel better. You should just sleep it off sometimes just good old fashion sleep does the trick.

  4. Sorry I miss spelled Magraine(It's my dumb key pad that does it not me.)

  5. I totally agree with that book. We show love in the way we want to be loved. I'm like you Barb- I need to feel like I'm being heard ( hellooo??? Wrote a memoir and a blog?) and I'm also a good listener. Luckily for me, my hubby is a good listener. And we both like sex as stress relief.
    : )
    Yesterday a girlfriend of mine told me she wasn't speaking to her stepmother because she forget her son's birthday. Something like that wouldn't really bother me at all (my mother in law never acknowledges any of our bdays- whatever). But to my friend, whose mother abandoned her at seven years old, she feels loved if you remember her.
    We're all different.

  6. Rigel, I could've guessed those were your gestures of love! You show them so readily. But what is the bestest of gestures for you?

    And Lyndsie, for you too -- do you feel the most loved when you're being helped by someone else? Or is something else even sweeter for you?

    Hollye, we are definitely cut from the same cloth, looks like! Sad about your girlfriend. This so wouldn't (doesn't) bother me either, but I can see why it would be poignant for your friend.

    Thanks, Rigel, for your tip on commenter problems. Any tips on how to deal with them? Sorry to anyone having issues. We know nothing!

  7. The book is called The Four Love Languages, or is it Five? Anyway ... I read it too; quite an eye-opener.
    Hope you're soon back on your feet, Deb. I'm just about to go lie down with my own migraine. I feel your pain.

  8. That's a hard question to answer Barb ,I think I feel the most loved when I am being helped by someone. Just knowing that someone cares really and is wanting to care for me is really when I feel the most loved. It always makes me feel really good to know that people actually care for me and love me the way that they do.

  9. Just one more thing to add(sorry this post got to me). I think that for me at least it's not the things that people give me all though very much appreciated and treasured. It's feeling loved and being loved. Knowing that someone loves me and is their for me,and and is by my side when I need someone means more to me than any anything that anybody could ever give me.

  10. You asked about receiving to feel loved. Hmmmm...

    As I mentioned before, I am a total hugslut. For example, it doesn't get much happier for me than going to the Kroger for groceries and, as I move through the aisles, bumping into Brent, Kevin, and David, all of whom will automatically hold out an arm and pull me into a hug when we say hello. Want me to feel loved? Hug on me, rub my shoulders when I have a tension headache, snuggle up next to me all cuddly on the couch. I am ubertactile.

    Ummmmmm, the truest friends are the ones who will answer the phone and let me cry at 2:00 a.m. when I'm having a dark night of the soul.

    I'll have to give them some further thought to decide on anything else. Hmmmm....

  11. You know... I've heard this too, and can NEVER remember it from the midst of it. And the problem is COMPOUNDED by my husband showing love by CARETAKING--making sure things are orderly... which I know he wants me to do, but I'M NOT CAPABLE. And what I want from HIM is listening, encouragement, but he seems incapable of THAT (he just wants to tell me how to do stuff BETTER--my very definition of anti-love)(though on THAT point, I don't think HE want to be told how to do it better either--I think men just can't help themselves)

    At the core though, I think you nailed it. Unconditional acceptance and seeing the best in people is both what I do, and what I ask of people.

  12. Well, Barbara, now you've got this topic rattling around in my cranium today. In true Pooh Bear form, I'm all, "Think. Think. Think," about your post.

    Hart, yes, things backfire! I got to thinking about love things I like to receive from others because Barbara asked, but what I realized is that there are love things others will reach out to me with that totally backfire on my receiving end!

    For example, while I get a huge kick out of having packages under the Christmas tree or birthday boxes to open (yeah, fun!), unless you are a part of my very tight, trusted, beloved small inner circle of safe people, I feel very awkward and uncomfortable about receiving gifts at nonstandard times. I've become this way over the past 4 or 5 years. And, I realize, with great shame, that it is a pride thing -- a tearing of the delicate scar tissue that has formed in the aftermath of past events. A few years ago, I got dropped hard on my butt, and things were truly dire. Totally scary dire. Dark, dark, dark times. (For example, I was so gutted for a few weeks that I couldn't make myself eat. Friends started taking turns inviting me and kiddo to dinner every night or every other night just to make sure that I ate at least a little something every now and then.) And, for a little while there, I was kind of a charity case. My church helped. My friends helped. It was very humbling, but I learned to accept the help because they were helping my son, too. And, anything that's for my son's good is fair game no matter what my hang-ups. The problem is, after a while, I got very hypersensitive about being perceived as a charity case (partly because most people at that church could never move past seeing me that way and treating me that way -- I never felt like I was allowed to be a fully functioning, productive, valued member of that congregation -- they wouldn't let me outgrow being someone to help and see me as someone who could do the helping). And, I've come to feel very uncomfortable about being given things in many circumstances. Now, S, R, and I have a very fluid relationship with belongings. We share, barter, give, and ask for things all the time. We are the queens of handmedowns. But, that's a long established relationship, a deeper trust, and a whole different comfort level. But, outside of a special few, I kind of cringe now over what, however unintentionally on the part of the giver, feel like a hand-outs to me.

  13. There; it's several hours later and I feel human once more.
    Wanted to add that I loved your posts the other day about your relationships with your husbands. These are the personal stories that really inspire me to feel positive about the institution of marriage, which I have a tendency to grumble about.
    Youse and yours are setting a fine example! And I'm happy for you.

  14. Great input, all! Rigel, your story was so emotional and touches on exactly what Hollye mentioned about our past experiences affecting our instinctive reactions.

    And thanks, Kat -- I do believe that's what the book was called. Actually, I do think there were 5, but can't think of the 5th. (Glad you're feeling better -- and glad you liked the last post --it's exactly why I was excited that Deb brought it up.)

    I love how specific Hart and Lyndsie and Rigel are in examining their experiences. It's eye-opening...

  15. Recently, an online friend quipped to me "I see why people love you." I was taken aback by this because I didn't think what I'd done was anything so remarkable. But you wrote it out in your post, Barb. I performed the cheerleader act of showing love. I'm very comfortable in the role of cheerleader, especially through words. And I realize that's what I find most missing in my life. While I'm busy expressing to everyone my confidence in them and telling them I know they can do (fill in the blank), I'm looking for the same kind of thing in return. Sometimes my family, my husband can do provide this. Not always.

    Today, I wrote a post that received just that kind of response from readers. They are far more confident in my skills than I am. It felt good because my spirits were flagging.

    I know from past experience that when I need that kind of boost, all I have to do is tell my husband and he'll provide. I don't know why I forget that over and over.

    I need to go back to my blog and thank my lovely readers. Including you, Barb. Thank you.

  16. Deb, I hope your migraine gets better soon. Nasty things those.
    And Barbara, I so hear you. There are things I use to define myself, but like you, what I do best is listen, and a part of the reason for that is because I too want to be heard.
    Fantastic post this.

  17. Lisa, you're welcome. But, of course, you deserve cheerleading (as do we all!).

    Rayna, 1) Deb's migraine is better, and 2) from what I know of you from Coffee Rings, I figured you'd be in this category too!

  18. Barbara,

    after days away from the blog, I cannot tell you how much this post resonates for me. Even if I tell you that, I cannot tell you...

    being heard is, IMHO, the single most thing that leads us to love, and not being heard, that leads us to feeling lost and alone.

    The rest of your post brings a clarity to issues i've struggled with over the past few years, in a way that instills in me -- if I can remember to pay attention to those different expressions of love especially (ahem) our spouses often offer -- a lovely sense of peace and hope.


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