My mom recently sent me an email with the title, Love. It contained only these words and a picture of my father: We’ve brought Cosimo home to die. He has an incurable tumor near his tail. Daddy can’t let him go yet. He says he still purrs and likes getting brushed. Mom
I used to think love was something big and dramatic and precious – something you had to parcel out carefully because there was only so much to go around. Mostly I saved love for boyfriends, and love implied a kind of intensity and focus that eventually tired all of us out.
I’ve changed my mind about love.
On its most basic level, love is the easiest thing of all to give. It’s about wanting good things to happen for other people. Not because they’ve earned them. Not so they’ll appreciate you. Not for any other reason except, Why not? Try this at a family function or a work picnic. Try it when you’re driving in the car and someone nearly cuts you off. You just think, I hope something really great happens for that person. It’s that easy. And maybe this type of love is easy because it doesn’t require actually liking the person. To love complete strangers and even complete dipshits, all you have to do is remove the expectation of anything in return. Love is something you can give or withhold at any time.
But this isn’t the kind of love you want someone to feel for you – not some kind of tepid, well-I-don’t-wish-you-harm kind of love. That smacks of “tolerating” a person – and who wants to be tolerated?
Let me go ahead and give my stubborn definition of the only kind of love that counts. To love someone, to really and truly love them, is to accept the entire package of who they are right now, at this very moment. Love is not mentoring. Love is not therapy. Love is not helping someone realize their potential. Love is showing appreciation and caring for the whole crazy, wondrous, original package. If you are my friend, this is the deal you have with me.
Oh, but there’s a problem here. Can you guess what it is?
If you are completely yourself and I am completely myself – no masks, no filters, no holding back, no formalities – what are the chances we will get on each other’s nerves? High!
Why? Because we each have buttons! And after much thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that deep, long-lasting love – the kind you reserve for your inner circle – is about finding the people least likely to press your buttons!
These are the qualities that make me want to pull my eyeballs right out of their sockets: clingy, needy, mopey, pouty, meek. Hold on. There’s more: people who need to be coddled and reassured, people who hold grudges, people who stew over mistakes, people who don’t speak up when they have a problem, people who have a problem they need to speak up about more than once a year, people who can’t laugh at themselves, people who can’t handle other people laughing at them, people who hover, people who need other people to make them feel comfortable, people who need constant attention, people who call just to talk, people whose feelings are hurt easily or often. Just a few more: people who are on restrictive diets and talk about them, people who meditate, people who worship things I would refer to as hoo-ha, people who send me glitter clip-art, people who are or want to become dentists or dental hygienists, and people who would be hurt if I did not remember an anniversary or a Hallmark-invented holiday.
(Mr. Henderson is looking over my shoulder, saying, “That picture doesn’t show enough buttons in it.”)
Do I apologize for having these buttons? No. This has nothing at all to do with judging people with these qualities or even judging the qualities themselves. This is about understanding your chemistry and your hard-wiring. I’m not a mushy caregiver type. If someone tries to get that from me, I will feel angry and smothered, and they will feel disappointed and dismissed. We will try to change ourselves or each other in order to make it work, and in the end, it’s a miserable and failed experiment.
There is no reason to spend large amounts of time with the people who make you wish life were shorter.
When the chemistry is easy, you don’t have to expend a lot of energy. You don’t have to try to listen. You don’t have to try to impress anyone. You don’t have to think of what to say. You don’t have to worry if you are bothering them. (Mr. H says, “Yes, you do. You might be bothering them.” But Mr. Henderson can write his own blog if he wants to.)
Sticking to the people you have easy chemistry with gives the relationship a lot more room for the things life likes to throw at you: illness, difficult pregnancies, world tragedies, accidents, love handles, man-breasts, hot flashes, unemployment, and so on. Love is about the people you want to travel with as you ride the rollercoaster of life.
(Oh, good grief. Now Mr. H wants me to clarify that I’m not talking about him when I say, “man breasts.” Would you get your own blog, already?! Some day, I bet you will have man-breasts, and don’t you want me to still do that thing?)
Surprisingly, when I looked at my inner circle of friends, I found no real trends in age, country of origin, religion, philosophy, look, dress, interest in sports, taste in music or books or art. The people in my inner circle do not necessarily like each other. The only real factor, besides a kind of bewildering number of artists, musicians and Aries (of all things), were that these people, to the person, do not have any of the qualities that press my buttons.
They tend to be like this: sturdy, playful, feisty, flirty, fiercely independent, self-entertained, high-achieving, stubborn, low-maintenance. They are people actively living or chasing their dreams, people who need their space, people on fire with creative and meaningful ways to spend their time. When we are together, there is a lot of laughing and sparring and heckling and play-wrestling and teasing. They enjoy my company but they don’t require it.
If you’re wondering when I’m going to say something about Mr. Henderson, it’s right here, because he tends to have a short attention span when I start talking; and if he’s been reading my blog, by now he’s stopped.
What is my favorite thing about Mr. Henderson? He’s just easy. I can talk to him about anything. Being around him never feels burdensome. And he makes me laugh. Here’s an illustration of his twisted sense of humor. The other day, we were playing soccer with our friends, and I stopped on the field and asked him, “Have you seen the boys?” Usually, our kids play nearby. Now, Mr. Henderson saw them right away, but he told me, “Oh, don’t worry. I just saw them over by that van, petting some guy’s puppy.” Everyone else on the soccer field waited to see if I’d laugh, and of course I did, and then we were all in hysterics.
Mr. Henderson and I play like two puppies. I’m the biter. He’s a little better-natured.
He’s been my best friend for almost 21 years. We are not into romantic gimmicks. When it’s my birthday, I usually ask for “space,” though one year he bought me frogs, which was cool. We don’t have “a song.” We don’t have pet names for each other, although he sometimes calls me his “little delicate flower,” which he thinks is funny. The chemistry is good. The sex is very good, and I’d have to say “inventive.” But mostly, I just like him. I like to see what he does when he is true to his dreams and his nature and his talents. I don’t have to be a part of every little corner of his life or know every one of his friends or see every one of his shows. He’s not on any sort of leash – long or short. He might like to put me on a leash, but I’d thrash my head around and make that impossible. His gift to me (because he knows I’d barf if he got me a Hallmark card or lingerie) is that he lets me be myself, the whole range of me, and he’s still here. That’s all I need.
I’m going to close where I started – with pets. Today, I was out getting braces put on Bach-Boy, and afterwards, he felt sore and self-conscious. When we got home, two of the dogs and one of the cats greeted us. (Maybe predictably, James – the cat everyone knows is my favorite – was the only one who didn’t greet us.) And I was thinking, this is why we love our pets so much. Pets could care less about things like braces. They let go of the little things. Maybe this why we are more willing to care for them than our human relatives when they’re sick.
In the photo, that’s Brian, who was an awesome dog, though he was always in danger of biting the mailman. And he was sensitive about his feet being touched – but so am I. He had epilepsy, and near the end, cancer and such muscle atrophy, I’m literally holding him up in this photo. During the last month of his life, Mr. Henderson would carry him upstairs every night so he could sleep in our bed. And in the morning, he’d carry him back down the stairs. I don’t think any of us could have cried more when he died. We loved him despite, and maybe even because of all of these things.
Sorry this is such a long post today. My blog is syndicated on Amazon, and whenever I post something too long, I get all of these cranky comments from people I’m happy not to have in my inner circle.