Holidays again. There is an old saying “In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” [Locksley Hall, by Alfred Lord Tennyson]. In my case, its winter holidays triggering the same thought. Maybe that’s a function of age!
But then, I think I know more about love today than any young whippersnapper who has the uncontrollable hots for a lady!
On a recent long drive I came up with a 10-Point Inventory of Love Needs And Musts of a Healthy Relationship. These are a duty, not a luxury. See what you think…
Act 1 is to listen. In our over-communicated world it seems we are all fighting for a seat at the talk-table (OK bad metaphor, I know!) But we really have developed the habit of talking, rather than listening. Yet there is one person, above all others, to whom you should listen. Your beloved. In addition, it is a lifelong commitment while you are with him or her. Pay attention!
We are famous for wanting to get across OUR point of view. We feel we have a right to be heard. But how slow and sad we are at apportioning the same rights to others!
Act 2 is to respond. Next comes responding to what is important to him or her. That’s the proof you are really listening, isn’t it? It’s no use if she says, “I like to be on top,” if the man only takes her in the missionary position! He didn’t really listen. If you make no change, it’s as if you didn’t listen, isn’t it? If she’s bored with ball games on TV, he must respond with some sort of negotiation to give her equal time. That’s love. I want, I like and I am going to… are just the opposite.
3. To communicate neatly, sweetly and unambiguously. Nothing confounds love more or faster than today’s appalling standards of communication. Talking today is ME ME ME. Try to work instead on the YOU YOU YOU, with an occasional US!
It really stems from bullet point #1 – Probably there is no surer way to feel stressed and start a quarrel than to not grasping what it is your loved one is trying to say, whether child, lover or spouse. Make sure, without raising your voice to a scream, of course, that you are understood. In fact, it is YOUR duty to be understood by what you say. It is not the other person’s duty to understand you, any more than it’s the grass’s job to cut itself.
4. To be sure to surprise and delight your beloved from time to time. In fact do it as often as you can. To watch stupid TV ads you’d think the only thing a gal likes is to be treated to diamonds. In fact a robe, a book or flowers are as good, or better. I read an interesting study once that said it wasn’t even the size of the gift, it’s the fact of a gift that scores. So fellers, rather than give her a huge bunch of roses once in a while, to show you love her, give her a single rose often!
Judy Dench’s husband, Michael Williams, arranged for her to receive a single red rose every Friday, no matter where in the world he or she was. The tradition lasted all their married life, until Williams’ death in 2001. With such fine love, a whole bunch of roses would be just overkill.
Judi Dench and Michael Williams
5. To find beauty in the beloved, even in fading years. It is your duty to find and harvest it, even when the shades of age or infirmity come down and threaten or mar his or her good looks.
Note: this means find something that is there now—not pointing out something in an old photograph in some dusty album—but in the living person before you. Then TELL him or her what you see!
Consider this lovely story from a book entitled Lessons From The Art Of Surgery by New York surgeon and prize-winning author Richard Seltzer:
The young woman speaks. “Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks.
“Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.”
She nods, and is silent. But the young man smiles.
“I like it,” he says. “It is kind of cute.”
All at once I know who he is. I understand and lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works. I remembered that the gods appeared in ancient Greece as mortals, and I hold my breath and let the wonder in.
What kind of man could have found it in his heart to say that his wife’s twisted face was kind of cute? No bitterness or anger from him, that his beloved is hurt. Truly, he must have been a god…
6. To be generous with forgiveness and praise. If not, love is being injured. Forget about what the other supposedly did to you. Chances are you caused that anyway. Someone won’t speak to you nicely? Consider that maybe you are making it difficult to talk openly and frankly. Turn always to forgiveness as a remedy, not whining and insult.
7. To desire for your beloved everything they want, not everything you want. It’s a sham, a myth, a delusion, that you get happy by gaining stuff. It’s a modern world monstrosity. Every so often I get messages from some crazy religious zealot who wants to increase their happiness by “converting” me to their way of thinking. What sad, empty people!
This is not less true in a relationship. Seeking your own happiness in what the lover can do for you is not an act of love; it’s a DENIAL of love.
8. To never disparage your partner behind his or her back, especially to gain sympathy or advantage. Honor praise and defend your lover against all criticism and calumny by others. Again, it’s a myth to think you will feel personally unburdened by bad-mouthing him or her. You know, people won’t really sympathize with you. They’ll secretly sneer, that you would do such a thing.
9. To be worthy of the other’s trust. Tell him or her the truth and harbor no secrets that you wouldn’t wish known. Faced with doing something you wouldn’t want your partner to know, stop and consider: you are about to betray his or her trust. Seen in those terms, you probably wouldn’t want to do it anyway.
10. To be vigorous at correcting issues. Not letting the Sun set on a quarrel and all that good stuff… You judge a relationship by how quickly it bounces back after a difficulty, not by total peace and quiet. It’s a total hoax that a good relationship is one in which there is never any disharmony.
In fact most relationships where nothing happens are dead—that’s why there is no conflict or tension. Graveyards tend to be pretty quiet places! The stand-off I call “the courtesy of avoidance” is a façade, no more. Pussyfooting around difficulties is not solving anything. In fact it’s reinforcing them.
In the course of evolving a life together there are bound to be conflicts of interest, tensions, contradictions and confusions. These of themselves are not reasons for a quarrel or break up. Constructive discussion and search for the highest intelligent compromise is the order of the day. With sufficient rational thinking, informed by love, it ought to be possible to work out any misalignment on issues so that there are no unnecessary conflicts.
Be realistic. Remember the words of the pop song She Will Be Loved by Maroon 5:
“It’s not always rainbows and butterflies; it’s compromise that moves us along…”
Well, just some thoughts for the dinner table on Thursday. You guys in the rest of the world, wish us well. Thanksgiving is really a celebration of families, rather than of pompous religious history. It’s a good time to remind ourselves of the most cherished values of hearth and home (notice how like the word heart is hearth; it’s related to the word “herd”, in other words, family!)
Shut out the cold, stoke the fire and lay the table with cheer! Just fill your hearts with love, before filling your bellies with grub, I say!