Learning How To Give and Receive Love

When I announced recently that I was leaving a group I belonged to, there was a huge outpouring of love. People came out from the woodwork to tell me that they loved me and would miss me. A bunch of people even told me something along the lines of, “I feel like I took you for granted because I thought that you would always be around.” It was interesting - if all of that love had always been there, then why couldn’t I feel it, and why hadn’t it been expressed before? I talked to a friend about this, and she noticed something similar when she moved from New York to San Francisco. All of a sudden, there was love coming at her from places she never expected. People were going to miss her, but prior to that moment, they never seemed to care.

So, why is this? I think it’s hard for people to tell other people about their true feelings. There’s some inequality in being vulnerable and telling someone else how you feel about them. What would happen if they don’t reciprocate our feelings, if we tell them how important they are to us, and they respond that we are insignificant to them? We would probably shrivel up into a little ball and die, right there on that spot. So, we do the easy thing, and we don’t say anything. And then other people miss out on knowing how we truly feel about it. And, when faced with a loss, we finally admit to some small part of what we were feeling all along. It seems like a shame that the world works this way.

Recently, I did an experiment for a week where I told other people that I loved them. I just let myself notice all of the little times when I felt love - you know, that warm affectionate feeling in the middle of my chest. And then, if that love was directed at someone, I told them about it. With no expectation of getting anything in return - I was just feeling my own love for other people, and if they happened to have something to say to me, that was fine. Overall, the experiment seemed pretty successful. It didn’t have any overt effects in my life, but it made me feel good while I was doing it. It got a lot more in touch with my feelings, and it made me feel closer to some people who I hadn’t before. 

Another side effect was that I realized how difficult it is for most people to receive love. When I told people that I loved them, and in a way where I meant it, I could see them visibly clench up. There was that reflexive “I love you too” that people used to diffuse the situation. Less frequently, I would get a “thank you,” which sometimes indicated that the message was received and accepted. Most people just aren’t used to receiving love on a regular basis. It’s something that we get every once in a while as a reward for doing something good or trying hard to make someone feel good. But it’s a rare case where someone stops what they are doing and spontaneously gives us love. 

Then I realized something - I find it really hard to have other people love me. Like, not only do I have trouble asking for love from other people, but when people spontaneously start saying nice things about me, I feel my body tighten up. I just want it to stop, want them to tell me that I’m a stupid idiot again (that’s pretty much my baseline self-perception). It’s actually too much for me to accept that others love me unconditionally, without expecting anything in return. I always think of love as being conditional - if I’m good, I will receive love. Otherwise, I’m probably a bad person, and no one cares about me. I never really accepted that people do love me, and that it just might be too much for people to express their love in an open and vulnerable way. That we are desperate for affirmation, but mortally afraid of being rejected.

So, I’m going to propose a game (yes, blog posts can give homework). Think of three people whom you feel love for, and tell them about it. Do it however you want - text, email, or call. While I guarantee that there isn’t anyone out there who doesn’t want to feel loved, use your best judgment, and don’t call anyone who has a restraining order against you or anything. When we are down, sometimes all it takes is knowing that other people love us, and suddenly everything starts looking better. So give three people that gift today, or if that seems like too much, then just do it for one person.

Now here’s the hard one. Call someone up (or text them if it’s too scary), and ask them for love. Sure, you can give other people what they want, but how hard is it for you to ask for what you want?