Friday, May 6, 2011

I Want to Know What Love Is

I've been dragging my metaphorical feet on writing this post because the topic-- "What Women and Men Know About Love"-- stumped me. I keep hearing that 80s song in my head, those plaintive words, "I want to know know what love is/I want you to show me." What do I know about love? How can I speak on what men know about love? Despite nearly 21 years of marriage and several long term friendships with men, I can barely comprehend how men think about simple things like pantry organization and holiday gift buying, much less love. The male brain is supposed to be simple, right? At least that's what men have told me. I guess I don't understand simple.

Then I started considering whether I know anything about what women know about love. I'm not sure I do. I've often found myself bewildered during lengthy chats with female friends over their relationships-- relationships that sounded more like fodder for the Jerry Springer show or the contents of a police report than that powerful, all-encompassing emotion known as love.

What do women and men know about love? Hell if I know. (Which seems to be how some of my fellow Grippers feel about the subject, as well.) Much like religion and politics, I'm not sure I've figured out my feelings about love. I know who I love, of course, but I think knowing how to love and how to express that love is a lifelong process.

I grew up with my mother's version of love, which was of the tough variety (to say the least). If I got sick, there were no meals served in bed, no pampering or coddling. If I was too sick to come to the table, then I obviously wasn't hungry. Pampering and coddling would only make me weaker-- I needed to tough it out. If I got my feelings hurt by a friend at school and dared to shed tears (as my overly emotional self is wont to do whether I'm sad or angry), I was weak and needed to stop being a baby. If I was happy about something or succeeded at something, my mother was always quick to remind me that happiness was fleeting and there was always someone better, smarter, prettier and funnier than me. She was good at knocking me down a notch or two, my mother. Sometimes, she was so good she managed to knock me down farther than where I started. All that tough love was supposed to make me stronger, more independent, better able to handle pain, disappointment, sadness, illness, strife, etc. I suppose it worked to a point-- I'm pretty tough, which comes in handy when those rejections roll in.

The first time I really knew in my heart that Jay (my husband) loved me and would always be there for me was when he cleaned my scissors. I can see you cocking your head trying to figure that one out and I don't know that the explanation will help or not. Before we got married, I went through a crafting phase, making various things for the apartment, as gifts and whatnot, gluing stuff together with my trusty glue gun and gunking up my scissors with that same glue until they were barely able to cut air much less paper or ribbon or cardboard. We'd been married no more than a few weeks when I was sorting through my craft supplies and discovered my crafting scissors in pristine condition. Jay had sat down and cleaned every bit of dried glue off my scissors. Why? Because they were mine and they needed it. That was all. He didn't use them and I didn't ask him to clean them. And he wasn't (and isn't) a clean freak and doesn't suffer from OCD. He just wanted to do something for me and that was something simple and obvious. I knew it was love. He's proven it again and again over the years in a variety of small, simple ways-- most recently bringing me the royal wedding edition of People magazine just to give me something happy to look at because I was feeling sad and overwhelmed by all of the news about the killing of Osama bin Laden.

I think maybe everyone loves differently-- not just men and women, but every man and every woman. Love is subjective-- what I think is love you might think is madness. What you think is love, I might think is emotional abuse. How we learn to love is based on the sum total of our experiences. For better or worse, we learn about love from the people who love us.

Here's the thing I've only figured out in the past few years-- love isn't received or processed in the same way by everyone. What I might consider the most loving gesture I can make can be considered smothering or received as criticism. And I know I haven't always accepted gestures of love in the spirit they were intended. I need to be loved with words, because words are what I understand. I need to be loved with small gestures, like emails and text messages, because that constant emotional contact sustains my sensitive soul. I need to be loved with a single flower or one perfect cupcake, a song that reminds you of me, a 25¢ toy from a gumball machine, just because. It's remembering I said I wanted to go to that place sometime or that I really want one of those things-- and then taking me there or getting me one. That's what love is to me. I also need to be loved with the word "yes" because-- to me-- love is being supportive of any crazy thing I want to do. Saying "Yes!" to my madness is saying you love me. And saying "Yes!" to you is me telling you I love you and support you and believe in you. I guess my version of love is the opposite of tough love-- it's marshmallow fluff love.

I don't know if I've made any more sense out of this week's topic or that I understand any better how women and men love. But maybe I don't need to understand love-- maybe I just need to feel it.


  1. Hi,Kristina,

    As soon as you started quoting from your 1980s song, I starting hearing other lyrics.

    "I'm not in love
    So don't forget it
    It's just a crazy phase I'm going through..."

    "What do you get when you fall in love
    You get enough germs to get pneumonia
    And after you do, well, he'll never phone ya..."

    "It really hurts a lot,
    Really hurts a lot
    Love is like a stove
    Burns you when it's hot..."

    You'd think all the sweet, happy love songs would be what would stick.

    I loved your story about the scissors. That's the sort of thing my husband would do. It sounds like you're very fortunate.


  2. You had one of those moms. So did I. Trial by fire. *rasies a glass in your direction*

  3. Lisabet ~ Might as well face it, you're addicted to love. :-) I don't think the sweet love songs get to me the same way the sad ballads do.

    If your husband is the scissor-cleaning type, too, I think we're both very fortunate!

  4. Kathleen-- trial by fire, indeed. Here's to us. We survived.

  5. Its funny, everyone says they're not sure what love is, but somehow there's lots to say about it. Its what we do.