How to do Love?

The mechanics of love rest on effective communication

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Nausea won’t pass.

As always when I’ve finally worked up the courage to offload concerns that were weighing me down, I feel I’m going to be sick.

And because a lot of my communications are asynchronous and in print, there’s no taking words back.

The relief that follows casting them into the ether is short-lived and soon replaced by the all-consuming fear of having hurt a loved one.

This, in short, is why I keep my cards close to my chest and don’t let anybody in until I can no longer contain the distress within and need to enlist help.

Alas, I internalized the message I was a burden as a child. During the five years I was completely incapacitated by major depressive disorder, the same message was like a soundtrack on a loop at home.

I’m forever terrified of imposing on anyone I’m close to, be it on a personal or professional level, so I do not always communicate as well as I could.

Talking about life’s unexpected challenges at dinner last night, my father commented he hadn’t seen me for six years, which he still feels bitter about. During that time, we barely communicated.

“I’m sorry, Dad, I didn’t want to bother you with my life,” I replied by way of explanation.

He took it hard.

Love, in my mind, protects those you choose to share it with from possible alienation born from difficult circumstances.

Take nothing for granted; assume nothing.

Many of us take our parents’ love as immutable, I never could and still can’t.

This isn’t uncommon among children whose parents were so unsuited to each other they grew up in a dysfunctional household.

Beside domestic abuse at the hands of my mother, I had to contend with the absence of an adult figure who would model what love was and how it worked.

Thankfully, this is happening later in life courtesy of my father and stepmom.

While I’m learning a lot from them, applying their teachings to my own personal life is a daily challenge, one I struggle with often.

As a rule, I favor bluntness in all my interactions. But I also have the tendency to hold back and try a gentler approach first by dropping clues for my loved ones to piece together.

Sometimes, they don’t, through no fault of their own because how can they know what’s in my head unless I tell them?

By that point, I’m torn asunder between the guilt inherent to distress that is very real but may be baseless and the reflexive need to shield them from it.

The problem, it seems, is that I have more empathy for them than for myself, which includes putting their needs before my own.

Knowing how to state one’s needs within the context of any human relationship is an essential skill.

And yet, it is also an insurmountable challenge when you’ve been conditioned to equate doing so with rejection and abandonment.

Hence the visceral reaction every single time I dare speak up, a full body and mind experience that leaves me winded and in pieces.

I would much rather suffer alone than hurt anyone or, worse still, discover they don’t care after all. After being cut off from life for so long, I’m still relearning how to be a human in the world and the process is fraught with setbacks.

It is awkward and often unspeakably painful. The growing pains inherent to getting out of my head again involve going through life in a state of near constant vulnerability.

Be it on a personal or professional level, I put my heart on the line every single day.

I know no other way to live; anything less isn’t life but existence pared down to the most basic bodily functions, something I’m only too familiar with.

Because love is a conscious choice repeated day after day, I make a point of always letting others know where they stand.

There can never be too many reminders; even if you believe someone knows how much you love them, showing them again could make all the difference.

Whether we’re stuck in a job we dislike, fighting a terminal illness, or trying to make ends meet at the expense of rest, many of us struggle in silence daily.

Although good love is self-evident, the gap between what my heart knows and what my mind will accept is one I haven’t quite managed to bridge yet.

My love speaks in question marks.

It is curious to a fault and seeks frequent confirmation of my loved ones’ wellbeing. It strives to be thoughtful, mindful, and surprising, often injecting humor into the mix.

To the extent that it is possible, my love plans ahead and anticipates.

It is a quiet force, a soothing presence in the background prone to sharing frequent and random appreciation.

And it is action and gestures more so than words; it is consistency my loved ones can rely on.

But when my love language goes unnoticed, I can’t help but fear my love has no value, no worth, no weight, no impact, that it does not matter.

It’s like handing someone a rare gift that took hours of labor and a significant investment to craft only for them to place it on a shelf without unwrapping it.

Love is attention, it is encouragement, it is support, it is time, it is dedication, it is commitment, it is patience, it is nurturing, it is protection.

Love is a safe space that empowers but never judges; love is blunt and gentle, vulnerable and strong.

As the antidote to fear, love is assertive and always finds the courage to stand up for itself, no matter the amount of digestive discomfort involved.

I’m a French-American writer and journalist living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.

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