I have been sick with a head cold for nearly a week now and it has gotten quite tedious. I am so rarely ill that I have no patience with my own body’s stubborn refusal to get well faster than it is. I have grown weary of feeling ill and all the emotions that go with it. As I have said before, I am independent and self-sufficient to a fault, asking for help is not my strong suit. If I can take care of myself, I would rather do it than inconvenience someone else. A wise woman once taught me to treat myself the way I want others to treat me, so I happily buy myself flowers and soup when I’m sick. I refuse to play helpless or be self-pitying. However, I deeply appreciate it when people close to me offer to help. Perhaps especially so since they know how difficult it is for me to ask for help. My roommate, my sister and even my parents have repeatedly asked me if I need anything or if they can bring me something.
My boyfriend is the one person who has not asked me what I need. That makes me sad.
To add insult to injury, he was sick first so I feel an underlying irritation that he passed this mess on to me. Voilà, le pièce de résistance. Last Thursday, after expressing an interest in “doing nothing with me,” he made it clear that meant I would have to drive to his house across town because he was too tired to come to me. I declined because I was sick, among other reasons. Yet later in the evening, he opted to go see a movie with his roommate. I was flooded with ugly thoughts and feelings…angry, disappointed, dejected, rejected, and neglected but most of all sad. We both had busy weekends ahead and agreed not to exchange any more texts until we could talk face-to-face today. Texting has been consistently troublesome for us and I realize it is not an adequate mode of communication. I went to bed that night with the words from Bonnie Raitt’s heartbreaking song “I Can’t Make You Love Me” running through my head. I don’t even like Bonnie Raitt. The last few days have given me a lot of time to think about what love means to me. I believe we all have deeply ingrained ideas about what it means to love someone. I am not sure we take a lot of time to ponder those ideas, where they come from, and how they play out in our lives and relationships. I have come to realize that I believe love is a choice. When I agree to enter into a committed, monogamous relationship with someone, I do not take that decision lightly. I feel that it is an honor, a privilege, a gift and a responsibility. I do my best to honor that responsibility every day by showing up for my partner, even when I don’t want to or it’s inconvenient or when I don’t even like him that much. I am not in love with love or the fantasy of love or the way this man loves me; I love this man and it is a choice I make every day to honor that privilege. His proclaimed love for me is a bonus, the proverbial icing on the cake.
To me, love is an action. I frequently refer to Gary Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languages, not because I love the book; I find it too Christian and heterosexist but like most things, I have been able to take what I like and leave the rest. I love the simplicity of the principles Chapman proposes. In my personal and professional opinion, a lot of frustration could be alleviated if we take the time learn one’s partner’s love language and put it into practice. Chapman says, “Love is a choice and cannot be coerced…Each of us must decide daily to love or not to love our [partners.] If we choose to love, then expressing it in the way in which our [partner] requests will make our love most effective emotionally.” I love the idea of making relationship requests; ideally, it takes a lot of the confusing guesswork out of the equation. My primary love language is what Chapman calls Acts of Service, “they require thought, planning, time, effort and energy. If done with a positive spirit, they are indeed expressions of love.” I openly share that this is the way I am best able to receive love. My partner’s primary love language is Words of Affirmation, which I do my best to apply liberally and generously even though that is not my natural inclination. Since my love language involves action, I feel words are hollow so I naturally show my love with acts of service. Giving words of affirmation is a deliberate choice I make to show my partner love in the way that he can best receive it. I do not say all of this because I feel I deserve praise; I am simply sharing my philosophy of love.
In my tribe, we frequently hear that expectations are premeditated resentments. Furthermore, love and tolerance of others is our code. These are also principles I do my best to live by. However, as a recovering person who still sometimes struggles with co-dependency, I walk a tightrope between being caring and caretaking. For me, having no expectations in my relationships feels like one misstep away from being a doormat. Allowing myself to have requests and what my therapist calls “preconditions for sex” is part of this ongoing negotiation we call a relationship. When it comes to certain requests and preconditions, I think all of us have some non-negotiables. An expectation of mine sound like this: I would like to know my partner is willing and able to show up for me when I am sick, hurt or scared, even when it may be inconvenient and possibly annoying to him. My preconditions for sex include getting tested for STDs and maintaining good physical hygiene, even when he might not feel like it. Chapman says you do not have to do these things but if you do them, it will be an act of love.
To my knowledge, I have never asked a partner for expensive gifts, dinners or trips. I do not need flowers, cards, or chocolate, although all of those things are nice. I am most often drawn to men who are not wealthy. Generally speaking, that is actually more attractive to me than the alternative. I’m not wealthy, nor do I expect to be. I do not want or need a man to take care of me financially, although it sounds great in theory. I have issues around money and I fear the conditions that are sometimes attached to bank accounts. I frequently wonder if I am too demanding, if perhaps I have my expectations set too high. Could it be that I am delusional and I don’t give nearly as much as I think I do? I am not hoping for a 100% return on my investment, in fact I would probably be happy with a 50% return on what I give. I enjoy being a giver and I do not think that makes me a martyr, I am just wired to be nurturing and I believe those closest to me would agree. However, I do not want to feel that my partner is taking my efforts for granted. Apparently, acknowledgement, validation and appreciation are my relationship requests and my preconditions for sex. There is no way I will feel turned on if I feel my partner is taking advantage of me. I have found it is nearly impossible for me to stop the giving so it is imperative that my partner appreciate me. The Bible says “Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable; love does not keep a record of wrongs…love never gives up; and its faith, hope and patience never fail.” Although I am not Christian, I find these to be Universal truths and I only hope I measure up.