Learning to Love
A late-night conversation reminded me that I am hardly the perfect friend. I was challenged to consider what it meant to really love the people in my life.
It is probably not the best policy to deal with sensitive issues at 3am, after exactly 0 hours of sleep, quality or otherwise. I lay tangled in my sheets, bleary eyes staring at my phone screen, trying to process the emotionally-charged conversation I was having with a friend. Instead of being rational, or merciful, I became offended.
Over the next few days, the little devil on my shoulder maliciously fed me lots of examples of the failings of my friends. My bad mood was not helped by work stress, consistent lack of sleep, and some other emotionally draining experiences, and within my heart festered a growing resentment over feeling ill-used and neglected.
I was feeling that many of my relationships were strained, and I was miserable.
Cue pity-party. How could they?! Didn’t they know friendship is a two-way street?! Shouldn’t my dear friends know me well enough, or care enough about me, to do something?! I said nothing to the friends I inwardly resented.
When it comes to handling conflict, my default style is either A) ignore it, B) play the unaffected Ice Queen who gets on with life as normal (it can’t hurt if you don’t have a heart), or C) pull away. (This may have something to do with moving a lot. Regardless of the situation, something in my subconscious usually says, “At some point, I will leave you, or you will leave me, so why have difficult conversations, why reveal my true self, why work to make things better?”) I have been making efforts to change this over the past year. There may indeed be a time to be quiet and let it go, but there’s also a time to be vulnerable and honest and try to improve a situation or deepen a relationship.
I did make things right with my friend. My rationality kicked back in eventually, I got some more sleep, and I got over my mood. We had that honest, vulnerable conversation at a saner hour of the day, and I realized something important in the process.
"We are here to learn how to love." John & Stasi Eldredge
Love isn’t simply about romance. Love is about friendship, too.
There seems to be a lot said about communication and "love languages" (ways we communicate and feel love) when it comes to building a relationship with a special someone. After all, especially in the first stages of romance, it’s fun to find out and implement exactly what makes the object of your affection feel appreciated. And it remains important over time.
But what about building strong friendships? Communication and love languages are relevant here, too.
Do you know what makes your friends feel most loved? Do you know how you give and receive love? (You can find out for free here. I always like free personality tests haha…) According to Gary Chapman, we tend to give love in the way we receive it. For example, my two main "love languages" are words of affirmation and quality time. I feel most loved when my friends talk with or write to me (especially if they take time to write meaningful messages that go deeper than “Hey, how’s life? I’m good here.”), affirm or compliment me, and when we go on adventures or even spend time doing simple, everyday things together.
In turn, I tend to show my love to them by messaging, writing cards, and trying to initiate hang-outs. That’s what makes me feel loved, so why wouldn’t they feel loved, right? Fair enough. But it’s so much more meaningful to find out exactly what makes your friend feel the most valued, and then do that. It becomes easier for them to “get” how much you care about them.
Besides learning how to better show my appreciation to my friends, I'm also discovering that learning to love means learning how to communicate more effectively. That may mean learning how to be a better listener. To find out where the other person is coming from. To realize how they handle conflict, and what affects their responses.
"We too often act from scripts generated by the crises of long ago that we've all but consciously forgotten. We behave according to an archaic logic which now escapes us, following a meaning we can't properly lay bare to those we depend on most. We may struggle to know which period of our lives we are really in, with whom we are truly dealing and what sort of behaviour the person before us is rightfully owed. We are a little tricky to be around." -- Alain de Botton
That may also mean being more willing to voice what is actually going on inside. To stop sweeping things under a rug. To share our feelings, respectfully but honestly, with safe people. To risk being seen.
Friendships, as well as romance, take work. Or, if you don’t like the term “work,” try substituting “effort” and “intentionality.”
Learning how to love is not always easy. But great friendships, like great romantic relationships, don’t just “happen.” People don’t magically find connections that stay close and amazing at all times, no matter what. There are ebbs and flows to relationships, and for anything to grow, it needs nurturing. Over the past few months, I have been challenged to learn how to love better. I have realized the importance of admitting that I am not the perfect friend, either. Learning to love takes effort, intentionality, and humility... but I have a feeling it's worth it.
"We realize that life depends -- quite literally -- on the capacity for love... We learn the relief and privilege of being granted something more important to live for than ourselves." -- Alain de Botton