Today it is all about understanding each other, and finding a way to communicate around obstacles. My partner and I are very deeply in love, but we cope with stress very differently. I am someone who likes to be near my lover. I don’t care if they are on the computer, or doing other things, I would rather be around them than not, given my preference. I grew up with a sib, so parallel play makes sense to me. He likes solo time, being alone is normal for him, and he craves it. This puzzles me, and I am pretty sure he just doesn’t want to see me, that I’ve done something wrong. It has caused a lot of problems for us, and it’s pretty much the only thing keeping an otherwise harmonious union from functioning. So we are trying to solve the root issue, and see if we can find a way that works for us both.
I once worked for a brilliant woman who was a devout Christian, and very serious about her marriage. We were around the same age, and she and her husband had made the choice to not have children. She worked every day on her relationship, and I really admired their lifestyle. They seemed happy together, they had plans and dreams and worked towards them as a team. I have been thinking a lot about her, and a book she recommended to me once years ago. I’ve been talking about it with E and although neither of us is particularly religious we are finding it a useful tool.
The book is called the 5 Love Languages. Basically we all value different currencies when it comes to relationship. If your mate values quality face time above all else and you keep doing unappreciated acts of service instead neither one of you is going to be very happy. The idea is to find out what the other person values, and speak in their language, not just yours. Here is a rundown of the five types from the book:
Words of Affirmation
Actions don’t always speak louder than words. If this is your love language, unsolicited compliments mean the world to you. Hearing the words, “I love you,” are important—hearing the reasons behind that love sends your spirits skyward. Insults can leave you shattered and are not easily forgotten.
In the vernacular of Quality Time, nothing says, “I love you,” like full, undivided attention. Being there for this type of person is critical, but really being there—with the TV off, fork and knife down, and all chores and tasks on standby—makes your significant other feel truly special and loved. Distractions, postponed dates, or the failure to listen can be especially hurtful.
Don’t mistake this love language for materialism; the receiver of gifts thrives on the love, thoughtfulness, and effort behind the gift. If you speak this language, the perfect gift or gesture shows that you are known, you are cared for, and you are prized above whatever was sacrificed to bring the gift to you. A missed birthday, anniversary, or a hasty, thoughtless gift would be disastrous—so would the absence of everyday gestures.
Acts of Service
Can vacuuming the floors really be an expression of love? Absolutely! Anything you do to ease the burden of responsibilities weighing on an “Acts of Service” person will speak volumes. The words he or she most want to hear: “Let me do that for you.” Laziness, broken commitments, and making more work for them tell speakers of this language their feelings don’t matter.
This language isn’t all about the bedroom. A person whose primary language is Physical Touch is, not surprisingly, very touchy. Hugs, pats on the back, holding hands, and thoughtful touches on the arm, shoulder, or face—they can all be ways to show excitement, concern, care, and love. Physical presence and accessibility are crucial, while neglect or abuse can be unforgivable and destructive.
E is awesome with the Words of Affirmation thing. And I definitely value that, it means a lot to me. Words have power in my mind, they evoke deep reflections and sink into my heart. I respond well to being told I am pretty, and nice, and fun. That was not always the case. In my first marriage I was pretty sure he was saying those things like a magic spell, hoping if he said them enough they would be true. I did not feel pretty, or nice or fun, and so it just made me mad. He probably meant all those things, but I could not hear them. I was too busy defending my territory, being a good feminist, and generally acting like an ass. So much for that marriage.
I am not knocking feminism, it is an important movement. For me, in relationship, it is not a useful tool. Worrying about being empowered and not ending up under some dude’s thumb puts you in a bit of a defensive stance. When I got done being woman and hearing me roar there was no one else around. The men who were attracted to the woman I was trying to portray did not appeal to me. It was a very confusing time for me, and I didn’t understand why for many years. My vulnerability is my power, and it took me a long time to embrace that. After years of fighting and winning and leaving it occurred to me that winning really wasn’t what I wanted. What I wanted was to be in relationship. On equal footing. I didn’t want to win. I wanted to connect.
Well I had no idea how to do that. All I knew how to do was kick serious ass. We hang out, it’s all good, you come for me, and I kick your ass. What? You weren’t coming for me? Well it seemed like you were, and you’re dead now. Cut your head right off. And oddly enough now I don’t want to have sex. Yeah…not so awesome. If I’m so smart and empowered and amazing and all this kick ass feminist goodness then how come I can’t do this? It doesn’t seem like it would be all that hard, I thought to myself. So I took the logical approach.
Ok, I thought. I am acting all rough and tough because I am scared. Guys are buying the act, which is hilarious because it seems so obviously a front, but they are, and then they think I am going to defend them from the world at large. Because they are scared too. Well that’s not going to work! Now we are both scared, and one of us is going to be surprised too. So what if I start acting different? Maybe I’ll get different results.
I started wearing dresses and little shoes and carrying a hand bag. I did my hair all cute and paid attention to my appearance in a new way. I got into my femininity in a way that made me feel good. I embraced my female power in a soft way. This was definitely something new for me. I had always butched it up to defend myself from homeless dudes on Mission or being groped on the subways in Manhattan. I wore combat boots. A lot. I purposely chose my footwear in the morning according to how hard I might have to kick someone later on in the day. Boots that could easily break your bones. And I knew how to use them. But it wasn’t making me happy.
So my technique worked. I started attracting a different kind of man. Someone asked me the other day why I date younger men. It is because they still believe in love. They aren’t jaded and bitter like me. I could feed off their innocent belief that love could work, that you could fall in love and be happy, I ate that like candy. Listen, to admit to myself, in private, that I want a man to take care of me is super crazy difficult and outside my ability to accept. Or it was. For many long years. But it is the truth. Call it what you will, I don’t care. I am a feminist who likes a man to take charge. But it has to be the right kind of man.
There is a certain cocky arrogance to a younger man that guys my own age have had beaten out of them already. Probably by me. Younger men don’t engage my defenses in the same way. I don’t feel like I need to fight for dominance, I am willing to observe their ways and discover a path together. This is very new for me. Sometimes it still feels funny, but I’m not afraid anymore. It doesn’t scare me to not have the upper hand, to not know all the answers. I don’t feel like I’m being pushed around. It’s comfortable for me. I find it oddly relaxing, and I like that feeling.
I thought I had lost my lover, that we had reached an impasse and we would not be able to find a way to be together. He came to me asking for space when I already felt like I wasn’t getting to see him enough, and I just lost it. I didn’t feel like I could give him what he needed, and I wanted to give him that more than anything. We talked about it a lot. In the end what we discovered is that I can be ok with him taking space as long as I know we are ok. That our relationship is secure. The only time I really fall apart when he won’t see me is when it is right after a spat. That is when he needs time to himself. That is when I need reassurance and to be held. I think we have found a way to have both those things. Those two things are not mutually exclusive is something I say a lot.
We are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to both exist in the same space and time. Sometimes it seems like you have to have one or the other, but you can usually have both if you try. Even if the things you want seem to cancel each other out, there is another way to do that math. The one thing I have learned from the Art of Rangering in my short tenure is this: there is always another way. If it seems like it’s a this or that situation, there is almost always a third alternative. And once you find it there are others. Thousands of options. It’s never black or white, it’s a freaking rainbow. Sometimes we forget that, and we fight for colors we don’t even like thinking they are all we can get.
The whole rainbow is yours. Take it all. Feel it all. Reject the hierarchy and just be. It’s ok, you’re not actually going to blow apart from all those feelings, it just feels like that. And when it does I’ll be there, and we will make it good.