Romeo and Juliet

Real Love

I try to stay away from sensationalized headlines, but recently I clicked on a talk called “Why you will marry the wrong person.” Thankfully the talk turned out to be more substance that I expected. It was in fact a very poignant look at relationships.

Feelings

By chance, a recent Netflix binge was a show called, “Virgin River.” This Hallmark-inspired soap opera focused almost wholly on feelings. In fact, the characters talk about hardly anything expect their emotions and how they feel. Every decision they make, all of their focus is on their emotions, and their desire for others to understand, fix, or change how they feel. Throughout the show the characters move from love to hate to jealously and are steered blindly by their feelings. It became funny because the characters’ answer to every problem was “I love you.” Yet never did they really supply a reason why they love the other person. It was like saying “I love you” explained every fault and fixed every issue.

In contrast, Alain de Botton recommends in his YouTube speech that we do not follow are feelings. He says that our feelings and instincts can not be trusted because they are based in what is familiar. What is familiar is how our first love, our parents, made us feel. Did our parents get divorced when we were young? Then being around people who will probably leave is familiar and comfortable. Trusting our feelings gets us in trouble, because it draws us to repeat the same issues again and again.  

Romeo and Juliet
Michigan Shakespeare Festival

Love

The Virgin River cast is all about the act of being loved. They focus on the receiving of flowers, attention, and special gifts. They expect their admirers to intuit and respond to their innermost wants and needs, without having to express those needs at all. It is the old belief that if you really loved me, you would know and do exactly what I need.

To love someone is very different than receiving love. To love someone, we accept them warts and all. Everyone is a mix of good and bad. To truly love someone, it is not only an admiration of their good qualities, but compassionate acceptance of their whole self.

Vulnerability

To rule our feelings and truly receive and give real love, we need to be vulnerable. Consciously or unconsciously many of us play games in our relationships, mostly because we are terrified to be truly vulnerable. Instead, we play games to try to get what we need. Instead of saying I need you, we micromanage others trying to make them act how we wish. Out of fear of rejection, we may become distant so we can not be hurt; therefore creating the rift in the relationship out of fear that there may be a rift in the relationship. Instead of saying what we need, we try to manipulate others to give us what we need. This usually backfires.

To be in an authentic relationship, we need to share our truth openly and honestly holding space for our partner to do the same. This may mean accepting things about others we may not fully like. It may mean accepting feedback from our partner as constructive criticism and not attack.

Who are you in relationships? Are you the Virgin River character or Disney princess who believes the fact of love will make everything right? Or are you a vulnerable realist who sees people for who they are and uses compassion and boundaries to create honest, loving relationships?

Becoming Better Grownups

What Do You Love About What You Do?

For Christmas, a dear friend gave me the book Becoming Better Grownups by Brad Montague. I read the 300-page book in just a few days. Don’t be too impressed with my reading speed, there are a lot of pictures in the book. Brad Montague is the creative force behind Kid President and was on a mission through this book to help us all be better adults. In the process, he uncovered many secrets to a happy life.

One of his insights is around our work and how we spend our days. So often we are focused on the labels, on the nouns of what we do. “I am a doctor.” “I work at this firm.” “I have this degree.” Those are all facts, and sometimes impressive facts. But we don’t live and enjoy facts. We live and enjoy verbs. Brad humbly shares his experience at the Jefferson Awards dinner in Washington, D.C. where by chance, he was seated next to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. He was terrified because her noun, Supreme Court Justice, was so much more impressive than his noun, YouTube video guy. But then she asked him, not what he did (noun), but “What do you love about what you do?” (verb).

That question changes the discussion, doesn’t it? She was not interested in someone’s resume. She wanted to know their passion, what makes them unique, what makes them get up in the morning. Ms. Sotomayor wanted to know their verb, their experience of life. The why of what they do.

Take a moment to think of how you would respond if I asked you right now what do you love about what you do? For me, I love to support people through difficult times, to help them see the inherent power they have, and I am honored and filled with hope and joy when I see someone transformed, to see someone take control of their life again – to love life again.

When asked why Ms. Sotomayor asks this question, because she did ask it of everyone she met that night, she responded that, “when you know what somebody loves, you know who they really are.” When we get past the labels and dig deeper into why someone does something, we get to know that person on the inside not just on the outside.

Inspirationally, Brad Montague reinvented how he saw himself and his work. He stopped thinking about how his work defined him and began working from a place of love. He stopped thinking about how he was viewed because of his title, and instead ensured that what he did inspired others. He is now in the business of love, created by love, given in love.

This refocus is also a tool of motivation. Not all work is fun and inspiring, but when I can remember that the TPS report I am doing, is going to help someone grow, I find I have the motivation to do some of the less glamorous parts of my job.

What do you love about what you do? What would it mean to you and your work to focus on the purpose of love and sharing love?

Barcelona

Why 20-Year Marriages Thrive

2 Decades, 20 Years, 1040 Weeks, 7300 Days. That is a long time. A long time to be loyal and partnered with one person. My husband and I have been together all that time, plus some, if you count the years we were together before we married. A week before our anniversary, an article on why 20-year marriages end popped into my inbox. Grateful that it was not sent by my husband, I thought it was a good prompt to write a post on how 20-year marriages thrive.

Relationships are Verbs

Whether romantic, platonic, or familial, relationships are a verb not a noun. A relationship is a living entity, not a static object. Being in a relationship is like everything in nature, if the relationship is not constantly changing and growing, it dies. If we want our relationship to stay the same or resign ourselves that it will never get better, the relationship dies. Throughout our twenty years, our relationship, our lives, and each of us as individuals have learned and grown through different challenges. As we learned to navigate each phase of life, our relationship deepened and grew.

Photo by Todd Heisler

Expectations

Every birthday and holiday, I joke with my husband that the present I want is for him to sing, dance, and have an accent. My desire is that he become a cross between Ewan McGregor, David Tennant, and Colin Firth. Not too much to ask for, right? Of course, having unrealistic expectations like these will always lead to disappointment and resentment. Instead, I concentrate on what I do have in a partner. A funny, intelligent man who understands and accepts me better than anyone else could. Reality is better than my expectations.

Assumptions

Everyone brings their history and their previous experiences into a relationship. This past experience becomes expectations of how things should be and our assumptions about why our partner is acting the way they are. These expectations and assumptions are usually wrong. Usually they are negative stories we are telling ourselves. It is important to bring our dishonest thinking to light. Our partner is not a mind reader. My husband can’t know what I am thinking and what I would like from him, unless I verbalize it. Many times, I also need to share my crazy assumptions so he can show me where I am off base. If we keep our assumptions to ourselves, they can never be addressed. We need to have the courage to share our crazy.

Listening

As we need to speak our truth, or what we are experiencing as our truth, so does our partner. A good relationship needs to have a safe space for us to share what we need to share. Hearing and recognizing your partner is the greatest gift you can give – and receive. Your partner feels he is really heard and seen. Through sharing our thoughts and beliefs, we can understand and support our partner on a deeper level.

Do NOT Do Unto Others

When my husband is down, he wants to be left alone to process it. When I am down, I want to be held. If I treated my husband how I would like or he treated me how he would like, it would cause anger and resentment. It is important to ask, not assume, what the other needs. And we need to voice what we need.  We deepen our relationship and understanding when we can see from our partner’s point of view, not the way we see the world.  

Acceptance

Some of us think we are perfect and everyone else is flawed. Others think they are imperfect, and the rest of the world has everything figured out. Truth is we are all imperfect. We are all doing the best we can. Sometimes we do things well, sometimes we don’t. The same goes for our partner. Believing our partner is infallible is setting up unrealistic expectations. Believing our partner is always wrong, keeps us from seeing their good. Expecting our partner to accept our imperfection but being unwilling to accept when they are imperfect is a recipe for disaster. We are all works in progress and deserve to be accepted as such.

Do Your Work

Many of the marriages and relationships that I have seen fail, the partners blamed each other. He didn’t do that. She is a such-and-such. The key factor that we can and should work on in our marriage is our self. I need to know why I react poorly to him leaving his socks on the floor and I need to change my reaction and boundaries around his actions. It is not about his socks or whether he or I pick them up. The real issue is my perception and judgments about his habits. The issue is mine. I can and should work on making myself be the best personal I can be. In doing so, I may it easier for my partner to be the best man he can be.

Love is Not Enough

Love is great for a happy movie ending, but love is just the beginning in real life. As Into the Woods explores, there is a lot that happens after happily-ever-after.  There is a lot of after to deal with after the initial bloom of love fades. Love is wonderful but for me partnership makes a marriage. This harkens back to the verb-versus-noun concept. Many people see love as a noun, as a constant, as a thing that exists in and of itself. But love is a verb. We need to work at love. We need to keep it alive and thriving. We need to nurture and support it. It is not a thing that exists on its own unchanging. It is a fire that constantly needs to be stoked and tended.  

Relationship Makes Three

Romantic songs and movies talk about two becoming one. I think a real relationship is two becoming three. It is important to remain oneself, not become co-dependent and merged. A relationship consists of two unique individuals plus the persona of the couple.  

I am truly blessed to not have found a mystical romantic soul mate, but to have found my partner in life. Thank you Super Pollo.

Stop Other-izing

Over the last few years, it has been apparent – especially in the United States – that we are divided. Instead of debate, there is hate. Instead of seeking to understand, there is attack. Instead of working together, there is fear and defensiveness. Although recent politics have inflamed this divisiveness, I believe it has been smoldering beneath the surface for decades.

If you are like me, you may have a close friend or family member who has “suddenly” become consumed by hate speech. I personally see this from those I love who have different political views than I do, and I do see it from those who embrace a similar outlook as mine. To help me understand some who are embracing a policy and dogma of hate, I looked for research and analysis. What is interesting is that some of the reasons in this article explaining supporters on one side of the aisle also applies to the other political view. The problem is people not politics; thinking and emotion not policy.

For instance, #5 The Fear Factor in the Psychology Today article points out how some people have a heightened fear and anxiety response. The article points to conservative versus liberal reaction, but I would also add that the focus on negativity and fear in the media (news and entertainment), can make us all on edge. If our fear is the threat of Hispanic immigrants or the loss of rights for the LGBTTTIQ community, it doesn’t matter if there is a real threat or not; our brains react the same way.  And the fear and anxiety we feel can make us lash out. We use offense as a good defense; we come out swinging in a desire to protect ourselves and our family.

Photo by T. Chick McClure on Unsplash

My goal here is not a political debate. What I would like to discuss is how do we come together. I recommend we start by recognizing, desiring, and making steps to see our similarities instead of our differences. I tend to agree with Brené Brown when she shares in her book Rising Strong that “we are all inextricably connected to one another by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and belonging.” What she shares is not a dogma of religion, but the connection and relationship we have with each other. The goal of this life is to connect, love, and be part of a community.  

To come together, I need to respect what you believe as far as politics, policy, and religion – even if, and especially if, it is different than what I believe. And you need to respect my beliefs.  Let us note that these are beliefs – a state “of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing.” Yes, they may be a “conviction of the truth of some statement,” but remember that the evidence we have and our ability to uncover evidence changes over time; what was true in the past may not be true now. Belief is conviction not fact.

Next time you have a negative reaction to someone because of how they think, what they choose to believe, or how they act, instead of attacking that person, take a few minutes to understand them. See them as a person. You don’t have to agree with what they believe, and you don’t have to put up with what they do if it is hurting you or others. What I do encourage, is that you don’t enter into the same black-and-white, us-versus-them thinking the other person may be expressing. “If we extend empathy to only those who believe in what we believe, that bankrupts empathy.” Without empathy for all, we have empathy for none.

what is love

What is love?

Deee-lite, one of my favorite bands, asked back in the 1980’s, “what is love?” Although they wrote a fun song that asks the question, the song never really gets to the answer (unless love is “degroovy”). Love is a theme of a lot of music, literature, and art. Mostly we see people who are pining or longing for love. They want your love. They need your love. They gotta have your love. This type of love is often seen as a noun. It is viewed as something that exists on its own and can be given away. It is seen as something that is gifted to another. It is as if we each have a bundle of love that we dole out in clumps and pieces to those we deem worthy.


This type of love is focused around the ego. Our persona, the person we believe we are, needs need to be loved and accepted. We expect that those around us should shower us with love and we have definite expectations of what that love should look like. We determine if someone’s gifted love is enough or given in the right way. Not only do we judge the quality and quantity of the love we are gifted, but we also feel as if we are nothing if we do not have that love. How many romantic comedies show a person as incomplete without their “other half.” Seeing love as a thing, as something that is parceled out, makes it a commodity. It is just another possession. The gifting of it is usually conditional and transitory. This is love as a noun and something that can be possessed, and lost.

Giving the power of love to another, having them be the one who has what you want, also makes you powerless. Many people are sad and depressed because they do not feel another’s love and therefore feel incomplete. We then make stupid choices to get love. We hide who we are so others accept us. We give up what we want in order to receive another’s love. We hold our tongue around our “friends,” afraid if they truly knew who we are they would abandon us. We diminish ourselves, our purpose, our being so we can be gifted with a nugget of love from someone else.

What I am coming to realize is that love is not a thing with which someone else gifts us. It is not a noun but is something inherent in our soul. It is something peaceful, fundamental, and deep. Love is a state of being. It is a way we move throughout our day. Love is seeing others around us with the eye of empathy and compassion. Love is being conscious of our actions and words and how they affect others. Love is feeling connected to those around us, even when they hate us. Love is a state of inherent peace found in the connection to oneness.

Sometimes love comes out as a gift or expression. What I have found though is once the love takes form outside our self it becomes a noun.  When love becomes a thing, there is now a conscious or unconscious desire to be recognized for what we are giving. Love is an inherent, internal experience. It can be seen in our eyes, words, and actions, but it is not what we say or what we do. It is an energy that fills our being and radiates unseen to all those around us.

Sometimes we can experience true love through an enlightened person like Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama. Sometimes it is seen in a common person. The garbage man who came by my old house was one of those people. He was calm and joyful and just radiated a peace that is indescribable. He didn’t give me the noun of love through picking up my garbage. But being in his presence I felt the existence of love.

Think through your life. Have you met someone who radiates love? Have you ever embodied that pure essence? Have you ever expressed your love without wanting in return?

giving a rose

To Give is to Receive

I am not a relationship coach, but I often work with clients who are seeking a real, long-lasting relationship. Often times they are depressed and desperate. They are upset that this amazing relationship has not come into their lives yet. From my side of the desk, it is easy to see how no one would be attracted to someone who is desperate and depressed. I encourage them to start being the person they want to date. If you want someone with a good sense of humor, smile, laugh and joke more often. If you want someone who enjoys an adventure, get out every weekend and try something new. If you want someone who enjoys travel, book a trip. If you want someone who jogs, schedule time every day to get a run in. If you want someone who loves freely and completely, start loving others. If they follow my advice, worse case scenario is they begin living the life and being the person that will truly make them happy. Best case scenario, by being all they desire to be, they will attract someone like-minded.

giving a rose
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The best way I have found to receive what we want, is to give it out. Often, what we send out into the world is what we receive ten-fold.

Don’t ask people to love you. Be love.

Don’t desire to be accepted. Be acceptance.

Don’t long for someone to comfort you. Reach out to comfort someone else.

Don’t pray for someone to forgive you. Forgive those who have hurt you.

Be the experience you want to have. Give to others what you wish to receive. In giving we also receive, and often we will receive more by giving to other, than others could ever give in the first place.

Be careful not to give to get. Do not give to receive immediately or directly from the person to which you are giving. Give to your mother and you may receive from your friend. Give to a stranger and you may receive from your boss. This is not quid pro quo. It is not like going to a store and exchanging money for the thing we want. This is open, honest, and non-expectant giving. The second you do something in order to receive, you stop the flow. Your giving must be done freely, with love, and without the expectancy of receiving in return. It is the unattachment from the result of giving that leads to receiving.

As with the example of looking for a relationship, giving freely of what you want to experience leads you to experience that thing. What we feel by giving is deeper than if someone tried to give us these experiences, because so many times we do not accept what others are giving to us. How many times has someone tried and failed to cheer you up when you are down? They can not give you what you don’t want to receive. They can’t give you what you can not embody yourself. By first embodying what we want to receive, it opens us up to accept more.

For the next few days experiment being the emotional states you want to receive. Give to others freely what you want to receive yourself. How does it feel to give without expectation? How does embodying what you want to receive feel different than when you actually receive it from others? See for yourself if it is not more beneficial to give than to receive.