I know, I'm on kind of a love kick. With the state of the world where it is - increased violence everywhere, terror, clowns running our government both nationally and at the state and local levels, (sorry, not trying to get political, but WTF people? Is this the best we can come up with America?) and everyone angry about something, there is a comfort in knowing at the end of the day we get to shut out the world and spend quality time watching "Stranger Things" on Netflix with someone we love.
So everything sucks. The world sucks. The dinner I just made sucks. And it's November, cold and dark and watching Winona Ryder as "Joyce" is as stressful as reviewing my depleted bank account statement. Oh and the Kindle battery is dead. What to do?
Shuffling through my limited apartment library (Note to everyone: when I climb out of this temporary hole in the upside-down, my library is going to be pretty off the hook. Maybe not "Beast" library off the hook, which has always been my dream, but it's going to be good.), I found my copy of Gary Chapman's book, "The Five Love Languages." This book came recommended to me a long time ago by a lot of people who had gone through rough patches in their relationships and thought at that time, it could help me. Shocker, it didn't. Not because it isn't a good book with very helpful insights, but because at that time in my life, what I believed to be a rough patch was actually the eye of the shit-storm. Rediscovering why we "fell in love" and bringing that love back was NOT at the top of my priority list back then. I had other discoveries to make.
Nevertheless, something drew me back to this book and I'm glad I re-read it. It's about communication, something I always thought I was fairly adept at. But really, I'm good at talking and never shutting the hell up, as most people will tell you. Professionally and in the court room, I have the innate ability to know when I've made my point, should shut up and sit down. Personally, as we all know, I overshare and can chat your ear off. I know. That's a major flaw of mine and on the top of my "To Do List" for being less of an assh*le in life.
Communicating my needs in a relationship however, is something I have never been good at and the reason why goes back to overthinking (Should I say that? Will that make him mad at me? Is it too much? Will he think I'm being too needy or too selfish? Will he think I'm crazy? Does he even feel that way about me?) Sometimes I say way, way too much too soon. Other times, I don't say enough.
If I just relax and let relationships develop organically, probably a lot of the second guessing wouldn't happen. Reading about the 5 Love Languages was a helpful exercise, surprisingly. As described in the book, the 5 Love Languages are: Words of Affirmation (more than just saying I love you, giving compliments and encouragement, showing gratitude and appreciation); Quality Time (eliminating distractions and spending time doing things you both enjoy doing together and having meaningful conversations); Receiving Gifts (meaningful tokens and expressions of love, not necessarily jewelry or cars); Acts of Service (doing the things your partner needs and wants help doing like chores or child care); and Physical Touch (physical intimacy, hand holding, touching).
The kicker is realizing that your partner may not speak the same love language you do. For me, I appreciate all 5, but the two I need most to "fill me empty tank," as Chapman refers to it, according to his quiz are first Physical Touch followed by Words of Affirmation, and those make sense.
Intimacy is an important part of any relationship, certainly. Holding hands has more intimate meaning for me than sex. When someone wraps me in their arms and I can feel, touch and smell them, there is a magical feeling I get, like electricity. Not with anyone, obviously, but without wandering into TMI territory, when Benjamin holds me, everything that was ever wrong with me, with him or with us, is just right. Just watching TV with his hand on my knee brings me a peace that I don't believe I have ever experienced before. It's special, it's real, it's safe, and it feels like home. It's a reassurance of his love. No words, just a feeling.
Words of Affirmation also makes perfect sense for me. My greatest complaint in any relationship I have had is not feeling appreciated and feeling I was being taken for granted. Saying thank you for something someone is doing or has done for us should not be so difficult and yet, some people just can't get to a point where they can say, "Hey, that thing you did for me that you didn't have to do, thank you."
As I was reading this portion of the book, I started reflecting on all the times I had been disappointed in a relationship because I would do, do, do and receive no acknowledgement whatsoever. It led to resentment and the breakdown of the relationship. I felt invisible, like an employee or a roommate. And for whatever reason, reaching for someone's hand and having them not take mine is as hurtful as telling me they don't love me.
So what if you do all those things, hold hands, have intimate moments, tell each other "thank you" for all the things we appreciate and the other person still isn't happy? Chapman says it's because we're not speaking the same love language. What one of us needs to fill the empty tank may be different than what someone else needs and we need to discover that other language to revive the love that began at the outset of the relationship.
Chapman reminds us that the first year of a relationship is about "falling in love" and it's fleeting. It's not what real love is. We are so busy trying to get to know the other person and letting them "check all of our love boxes" that we just fall into them. It's exciting - we do everything we can to impress them and we create a chemistry through activities that bond us to one another. But once life and reality begins to set in, those falling in love feelings dissipate, which is the natural course. And that's when relationships worth keeping reveal themselves, but they take work - hard work.
Part of this hard work is recognizing and respecting the other person's language of love and then learning to speak it. What every person needs is different and saying "we're too different, I can't give you what you need" is too easy if a relationship is worth holding on to and growing. But we have to want to open communication with the other person.
Sadly, some people are just too selfish or even narcissistic to ever truly want to or try to give themselves to another person and give that person what they need too. But thinking about the people who recommended this book to me, many of whom were facing divorce, affairs and general misery in their marriages, I realize that the insights in this book are worth considering. Figuring out your own love language and letting your partner know what it is apparently repaired at least three relationships of which I am aware. They're better than ever, in fact.
When we meet someone and start dating them, we don't always fall head over heels in love. Even me! Shocking, I know. But when we do, there is something special there and something worth saving. Communicating how we feel seems to be one of the greatest tools we have to keep the love flower alive and blooming.
For Gary Champman's quiz on Discovering Your Love Language, visit here: http://www.5lovelanguages.com/profile/couples/.
I was lucky this year. My favorite Disney story was released in the movie theaters the weekend of my birthday. The live-action Beauty and the Beast (plus popcorn, Twizzlers and dinner) was an awesome gift. And the fact that Benjamin would take me, made it an even better treat.
It's a powerful story of true love - going beyond the surface and loving someone for who they really are. From the very beginning of the story, when the question "how could anyone ever love a beast?" is asked and we find him to be an unbearable, angry and cold creature, I think we subconsciously hope that he pulls it together to become prince charming. This is Disney, after all.
We find both Belle and the Beast to be incredibly stubborn. Naturally, she's kind of peeved to be the prisoner and he's just, well a beast. And we see it again when they argue about whose fault it is that he was attacked by wolves. "It wouldn't have happened if you didn't try to escape" and "I wouldn't have had to try to escape if..." But we also see that there is more to both of them - Belle could have run off once the Beast beat up the wolves, but she didn't and he didn't have to go looking for her, but knowing it was unsafe outside his castle walls, he did. And then she stayed to tend to his wounds. Kindness goes a long way in opening a person's eyes and heart.
And then we watch their friendship develop. He gives her his library. "Do you like it? Then it's yours?" They realize they share a love of books - adventures and romance (she catches him reading about Lancelot and Guenevere, probably one of the most classically tragic and romantic stories ever). Suddenly, this prison in which Belle is trapped offers her the freedom to be herself, to read and dream and share this passion with someone else.
Belle sees the depth of his soul, the hidden romance and passion and the kindness. She finds her soul mate in a creature who could not even love himself let alone anyone else. But she tames the beast inside of him, bringing out his best qualities. And he accepts the "peculiar girl." Of course in true Disney fashion, she saves him with "true love's kiss," breaks the curse and they live happily ever after.
Seeing through someone's beast-like qualities, which I'm sure we all possess at some level, to their heart and soul is the essence of true love. Accepting someone, all of someone - their flaws and demons, the little annoying things they do and quirks they have, the times they have hurt us and we chose to forgive them - is real love. Looking past those things allow us to see all of the good in a person - the small acts of kindness they perform without regard for acknowledgment, the way their eyes sparkle when they speak of the things for which they have a passion, the way they sing when they think no one is listening or talk to their pet,
Getting to know a person, to truly understand what makes them tick, and loving them for all of their good and bad takes time. When she saw her father was in danger and needed her, the Beast let Belle go, and he let her go because he loved her. It is then, even after the famous ballroom scene and song, that he is at his most vulnerable. It was when he let her go that he knew he loved her. And she returned and brought him back to life. That's a gut-wrenching, tear-jerking scene in the movie. Gets me every time.
When it's real, love never really leaves.
As successful lady bosses, we are so good at planning...everything. We take control of stressful situations in our business lives with the grace of Duchess Kate and the ferocity of a honey badger ( I actually just had a funny vision of a honey badger with a tiara..funny and adorable...anyway...). And our lives tend to be full of activities and events and eating and meeting because that is how we plan them to be. By 10 am Tuesday, I am already confirming my weekend plans and looking at my calendar for next week to see if I can squeeze in a trim on the old bangs at the salon. (I can't. Shocking!)
Like many of us modern mamas, I deal with anxiety. I do. I never liked to admit it, but I do. Lucky for me, my anxiety is not usually debilitating, it just keeps me up at 3 am as I second-guess the conversation I had the day before with an adversary and also wonder if chickens have knees (Spoiler alert: they do.). Unlike many who struggle with disorders like anxiety, rather than being caught in the trap of inaction and indecision, I act and decide. Because what I worry most about is "how does this go and how does this end?"
Rather than focusing on "what is," I am overthinking about "what could be."
Overthinking may be the root of a lot of the confusion, frustration and gut-wrenching heartache that a lot of us experience in a relationship when it hits that tipping point - is this a forever thing? Or is it just a for now thing?
Commitment can be scary. When you have a person in your life with whom your soul connects on a deep level, with whom you share interests and goals, with whom you feel your most authentic, at home and at peace, often a future becomes that frightening but exciting possibility. However, it becomes a will 'o the wisps that can dissipate into the air when we start to overthink. What if I hurt him? What if I give everything and end up with nothing...again?
More terrifying to me than venomous snakes, F5 tornadoes, nuclear holocaust and even loneliness (avoiding that is probably at the root of many of my impulsive decisions) is regret. Overthinking for me, and maybe a lot of people almost always leads to regret. I've missed opportunities in life and love because I thought too hard about all the reasons something was wrong and couldn't work, rather than all the reasons it could and would be the best thing for me. For all of my anxiety-ridden, negative "what if it doesn't work out?" questions, there is always a more pressing one: "what if it does and it's amazing?"
I love fiercely. That's the best way to describe how I love. I'm a passionate person about the things that matter and love really matters in my life. I don't ever expect anyone else to match my intensity - no one ever has (who didn't turn out to be a complete psychopath in the end...begs the question about me, huh? Yoda has confirmed, I'm not a psychopath, so we're good folks. No worries. I'm a lot of other things, just not a psychopath. Phew!)
Matched passion and intensity is not exactly a deal maker or deal breaker. Obviously affection and some passion (ear muffs, moms) is a necessary requirement, but I'm most certainly not looking for over the top public expressions of love. (That's the stuff a lot of psychopaths do...just sayin', Tom Cruise...)
Everyone loves in a different way and expresses that love differently. I say "I love you" a lot. Probably too much, but I never want anyone to doubt or wonder. And I do things, for people, maybe too many things to try to show how much I care. I "over-do" and "over-give." Another good way to describe how I love is louder, perhaps. It's not more or less than someone else, necessarily, I just wear my heart on my sleeve and express my feelings more readily in what I say and do.
How you love someone isn't a contest about who does it more or better. It's being a partner - a true friend, a cheerleader, a counselor, a playmate all wrapped into one super taco. It's more than just initial attraction - falling for someone is an amazing thing, but it's a fleeting feeling.
What sustains a relationship is acceptance of all the weirdness that surfaces after the initial fireworks, butterflies and wooing, when maybe we don't always have our best face forward, when real life begins to bubble into the fantasy of kissing and hand holding under a clear, star filled sky (maybe that's just one of my fantasies).
Overthinking love allows not only the" inside our head demons" of insecurity to infiltrate the relationship, but also those outside forces I call the "saboteurs," those so called friends who offer advice because "I just want to see you happy." They say things like, "I can't believe he did that, you deserve so much better." Being mistreated by someone is no joke, most of the time the implication is "you deserve what I can give you - dump the chump." But they don't ever come out and say that. Or they tell you, "come on, don't you see how much fun we're having going out and meeting people. That's what you need. Forget him! He's not worth it."
When we overthink, we let those saboteurs, climb into our brains, and suddenly what they say makes a whole lot of sense. They justify our insecurities - "you think so too?" But we become the true relationship saboteurs - eventually we can ruin a really great thing if we are always questioning it and second guessing. We create issues and problems that aren't even there by overthinking - it's a special form of fear. Shockingly, so many other people are happy to see a relationship fail, which I find disgusting. Not because they want to be with us themselves or even can, just because misery loves company.
How you love or what makes you love is completely personal. Certainly, we can't make another person have feelings they don't have (that damn Bonnie Raitt song is right, by the way). But when we second guess ourselves because we overthink - maybe I love him? is this really what love is? I don't think this is love...? - we miss out on tremendous possibilities. What messes us up most in life and creates this second-guessing is the picture in our head of how we think it's all supposed to be rather than just rejoicing in "what is" and what we have.
Closing out the constant thoughts of "what if this is wrong for me?" and exchanging them with thoughts of "there are so many reasons this is right for me" has helped me not just in relationships but even in making professional/career decisions. Sure there are always cons to most everything we do, but by starting with the pros, the negative stuff really isn't so bad. There will always be a downside, but focusing on only that eliminates any possibility of seeing what may be an amazing up-side. Opportunities missed, love lost.
Ultimately, we have to get out of our own heads and out of our own way to understand what we want and need. There's clarity there. It has taken me a long time to get there, and there is still some gray clouding my vision. Letting go of the "what if this is bad?" and taking a chance on something being good hasn't always worked out in my favor, especially when I'm willing to take a chance and the other person isn't. That has been everything from just disappointing to earth shattering and life-altering.
Regardless of the ups and downs that exist in every relationship and even the starts and stops, how I love isn't going to change. But I am working on staying in the moment with "what is."