All we need is love, the Beatles told us. But in my experience giving and receiving the quality of love we desire is a darned hard thing. Why is that?
Perhaps it is because to get the love we need we have to honestly present ourselves to the world. How can someone give you the kind of love you need if you present a false picture of yourself to them? If you can’t show the world who you truly are then all you can do is hope that someone will provide the kind of love you need by accident. Consequently the quality of love you receive may directly correlate to your ability to be vulnerable with other people.
And of course it is darned hard to be vulnerable. Most of us arrived as adults by becoming actors of our own lives. It often reaches the point where even we get confused and find it difficult to tell if the version of ourselves that we present to the world is fake or the genuine article. I see this in myself. In the business world I play the role of a hard working, no nonsense type of employee. I sometimes feel I am this way, but I’m not sure it is genuine. I think it is driven by fear: fear of being unemployed. I have known the depths of unemployment and low wages, and it is a miserable experience I do not want to recur. So I have learned to survive by projecting the values I think other people expect to see. Doing so on a daily basis and so routinely often makes me think I really am this person.
But this is probably just one aspect of me. I also find myself wanting to goof off more and more as I age, and it’s harder and harder to play this role unless I feel engaged in the part with the other actors in my life. On some level I sense we are all faking it. My boss and his boss are projecting values that they are committed to their careers, but on another level I sense it is bogus. They too are wearing masks. We are all wearing masks. We are all imposters.
And I’m clearly not all that great at being vulnerable. This is an aspect of myself I continue to work on, but with only limited success. I have learned that being vulnerable means you are easily open to assault. And emotional assault can be the worst form of assault.
I feel I lavish love on my wife and daughter, but I also often feel like I am not doing it right. One should give out love with no expectation of return, but it often feels like I give out way more than I receive in return. I think the kind of love I try to give them is what they want to receive, but I often feel uncertain. As my daughter matures she doesn’t need the father who read to her every evening any more. As my wife ages it often appears that she gets the kind of love, or at least appreciation, that she desires more from her friends than from me. I often feel like they understand her a lot better than I do and perhaps that’s why she spends so much time with them.
On the other hand I also have assumed that to truly love someone you want what is best for them. So if my wife gets a lot of the attention she needs from her friends, providing this is the kind of attention she needs rather than wants, I don’t feel terribly upset. I’ve never believed that one should get love only from one source. But I do wonder sometimes if I truly love my wife, as I do, why others appear to be so much better at tickling her fancy than me. Why can’t I see, integrate and respond to those aspects of her that others seem to be able to do so easily?
I have a friend who shall remain anonymous (but she knows who she is) who wants someone find someone that totally “gets” her. Some part of me thinks that waiting around for this person is a lot like waiting for Godot. At best you can hope that some combination of people will “get” you in divergent ways where you feel this appreciation and love. But sometimes I run across couples who truly seem to me to be so well integrated that I tend to put aside my skepticism and think “These two people are soul mates. They were meant to be together.” I get that feeling about my sister Lee Ann and her husband Rick. I can’t imagine two people who complete each other better. I can’t imagine them divorced. Neither, as best I can tell, was totally the person they were meant to be until they found each other and fell in love. Now they are so integrated they truly seem one entity sometimes. It’s no longer Lee Ann and Rick, it’s Rick/LA.
I dearly love my wife and daughter but when I look at Lee Ann and Rick I feel they have set a standard I will never be able to achieve in my marriage. I give myself some solace by wondering if such utter integration with each other is unhealthy. I know on an instinctive level though that I will never realize what they have for each other in my own marriage. I am more than a little bit envious. But I wonder: do they really feel complete? Or is something missing? Is it perhaps because they live life with such modest expectations that their relationship succeeds so well? Have I set for myself a standard of love so high that no one could possibly meet it quite the way I want?
I don’t know. But it seems a standard devoutly to be desired.
I have had two occasions in my life where I felt someone “got” me in a special and unique way. One happened seven Christmases ago when I opened a present from my wife and there was a first edition Palm PDA handheld computer. I kept up on technology and had some idea of what these things did, but I had never used one and didn’t even know I would want one of these things. I took it out of its box, started playing with it and within a couple days I was so utterly tickled by the present that to this day I doubt Terri will ever be able to give me a gift that will touch me quite the way that little electronic gizmo did. Was it just a hunch that she had, or did she really know me THAT well? Maybe I don’t want to know. But it was a home run outside of the park sort of present.
Another occasion happened about four years ago when I finally connected with an online friend in real life. Among other things we both had a passion for theater, musicals in particular, and we connected on a shared interest in the musical Les Miserables. She gave me with a CD of her favorite musical, The Secret Garden. Okay I thought, I’m sure it must be good if it comes on her recommendation. But I had seen the movie on TV and it didn’t do much for me. I remember taking it to work a couple days later and putting it on for a spin while I worked on some boring documents. It wasn’t very long before I was closing the door to my office. Tears were actually streaming down my face. There are lots of wonderful musicals out there, of course, but for whatever reason this one totally knocked me for a loop the first time I heard it. Maybe it was coincidence, maybe not, but I felt touched in a way I have only felt a few times in my life. It is still difficult to listen to it without tearing up. I’m not entirely sure why it affects me this way but it clearly touched something in my inner core.
I’d like more experiences like these two in my life, but they are by their nature few and far between. I can’t help but think though, wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if we could all feel this kind of special touch from not just our intimates but the world at large. I have nary a clue, though, on how to get there from here.
(Note, see also this related topic.)