How to Love

31 May


It would not be inaccurate to say that dating has been going better for me lately. Specifically, I’ve made it not only to date two (a significant event), but even to date three (nothing short of a miracle), and, more recently, to date four (you should be guessing that I’m lying at this point) recently with someone.

Per usual when I find I really like someone, I get nervous. Particularly when there is very little data to go on – that is, very few dates, versus having already known the person via some other capacity – one tends to over-read everything, searching for meaning in the arbitrary. I did this for a time, but after a while, began feeling comfortable in the person’s company, and decided just to roll with the punches, so to speak.

Yet, this particular string of encounters has had me thinking about an important distinction, one that I suspect we have all experienced intimately, but that I have not articulated until very recently: the difference between who we want, and how we want to be loved.

With all this dating, I have certainly affirmed the kind of person I’d like to be with: someone cerebral; quick-witted; hilarious; possessing of verbal acuity; genuine; outgoing; kind. This person should love books, maybe write a little every now and then, and greatly enjoy highly theoretical and personal conversations, replete with reflection and intellectual risk-taking. Brownie points for being creative, musical, and/or understanding my immigrant upbringing by way of personal experience. Serious extra credit for sharing similar politics on social issues (reproductive rights and gay rights, yes), and for being able to discuss canon formation coherently (swoon). I could go on.

Yet, as recent experience has shown me, even when I do find someone roughly around these lines (and as specific as those qualities seem, they do come in many different shapes and sizes), there is no guarantee that there is relational compatibility. As I’ve been talking through styles of partnering with various friends, I’ve tried to entertain styles that differ from my own, but to no avail. Instead, I’ve found that what I’ve always wanted does indeed remain what I continue to desire: intimacy, affection, tenderness.

I realized during a contemplative walk today that this has so bothered me because a fourth date, for someone who largely only goes on first dates for problems of tremendous pickiness, is nearly synonymous with the pivot point that edges into relationship territory. Investing that much time and thought? That is no longer rolling with the punches. This is the point at which I decide whether or not I’d like to keep investing in a more intentional way.

This kind of hypothetical investment manifests itself in letting go almost completely, giving abundantly to my partner, wanting to do so much for him. When I get invested, I get hands on, and I go all out. I will invest quality time, give words of affirmation, indulge in small but meaningful gifts, do tasks, and be touchy. I will want my life to slowly but surely integrate with the other person’s; to have him share of the everyday, and to share the everyday with him, typically through a nightcap conversation. Oftentimes, these would be the best part of my day (this was, of course, before I started my daily 5K runs).

I suppose I love to love, and as such really don’t enjoy holding back. I consider it a great privilege, and like to express my love for others in myriad ways. And while I understand, mentally, that people possess different styles of love – languages, as the book states – experience has shown me that I’d like reciprocity, that perhaps I’d like to be loved in the way that I love, and that veering too far from my style reads as unintelligible to me when true intimacy is involved.

Let’s do some demystifying here, while we’re at it: people who share my particular romantic-emotional needs are not necessarily insecure; our confidence does not depend on the affirmation of another. But when that other does very little to obviously celebrate you, when you constantly feel overlooked by the one person who knows and should value you most, well, then, that’s likely to have a deteriorating and deleterious effect, wouldn’t you say?  So I think I’d be stronger and more complete alone rather than with an ill-fitting love.

I’m building a theory now which says that you can detect another’s style of loving early on. When mutual interest and liking are established, people tend to feel more comfortable expressing themselves to one another. I’ve occasionally come across a few extroverted folks who have been very kind to me at these stages, but from others, receiving verbal affirmation is like pulling teeth.

And too, for me, it all comes down to how this makes me feel. However counter-intuitive this may seem, feelings can be a gateway, an analytic even, which helps us get to our truths. Something about this not feeling quite right? Time to investigate, to probe. Feeling lonely and distant when your partner is at your side? Let’s start asking some more questions to get at the inspiration for that loneliness.

At this point, I recognize my experience of various ugly feelings which happen to fit perfectly into the trajectory of my dating brilliant but emotionally withdrawn men. And this is the point during which I recall my friends’ and former colleagues’ comments and advice: “you are a wonderful person, and I hope you get what you deserve;” and “it is not time wasted if you put your lessons into practice the next time.”


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