One of the popular self-help slogans of the early 2000s was, “Love yourself”. However, I have always preferred the ancient Greek aphorism, “Know thyself.”
Some people interpret “love yourself” as a sort of YOLO hall pass. Eat that donut! Stuff in another piece of pizza! Blow your life saving on a good dinner with a view of the Eiffel Tower! You only live once, so why not?
However, if you know yourself, you can love yourself better.
Several years ago I read The 5 Love Languages of Children.
I was very skeptical, but a friend handed me her copy and said, “Trust me, just read it.” (I’m sure there are adult editions, but I was
threatened with loaned this version.)
The writers purport that there are five principal ways that people recognize that they are loved: physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, and acts of service. It is important to recognize which one applies to not only you but also to the one that you love.
Huh! How we give and how we receive are two different things?
For example, if your partner’s love language is quality time but you persist in showing that you love him/her by acts of service, such as washing the dishes, guess what? Your partner doesn’t feel loved, even though you feel you have demonstrated it.
Basically, you put your money in the wrong bank account.
While the concept was not new to me, I appreciated this kind of concrete categorization. I even learned something about myself. While I enjoy giving gifts to others, what I like to receive are words of praise and affirmation.
Unless, of course, those gifts are books. Give me all the books, that would be fine.
However, I do really love to give gifts, especially surprises.
I don’t know how many simple presents I’ve given Lover over the past year and a half, but there have been many, ranging from tee shirts to scarves to photographs to books. And even more. But one of my favorites is to hide little notes around his apartment when I, the early riser, let him sleep in ’til noon on Sundays.
I once stuck a Post-It on the inside lid of his washing machine that read, “Finally, I got you to drop your drawers!” I put another on the inner lip of his microwave: “Is it hot in here, or is it just me? (Oh wait, it’s me!)” And so on. Another time I doodled on his grocery list left lying on the counter, changing “bran” to “brains” and drawing a stiff-armed zombie along the border, as well as embellishing other everyday items with erotic commentary.
And this is how I found what love language works for him, because he loves these silly mysteries even more than all the other things combined.
Now this is where “know thyself” comes in handy.
Last month I was feeling a bit cross and confused when an old flame rang me up. It ignited all my latent insecurities about dating a man whom, truthfully, I don’t see very often due to our off-set work schedules.
At first I was angry at Lover, a knee-jerk reaction I’m still working on being adult enough to overcome.
(I’m unhappy so everything’s your fault!)But I kept my hands off my phone and, taking deep breaths, processed through this murky emotional turmoil. What did I really want?
Eventually, I figured it out.
I wanted affirmation that Mattson loves me, that this relationship is real and worth all the work we put into it. Even though we’ve exchanged I love you’s, I needed something…more.
When he called to catch up and say goodnight that day, I took a deep breath and told him:
“Do you know how we discussed making requests?” (See In Sickness & Health.)
“Yes. What’s up?”
“I have a request.”
“OK. Do I have to guess what it is?”
“No, it’s just hard to say. I feel stupid saying it out loud.”
“OK. Can you give me a hint?”
“I’ll just say it: I would like something mushy, from you.”
“Yes. Mushy. Mushy mushy words. I am feeling a bit low, and I just, I just need it.”
“Something romantic? Romantic words, is that what you mean? I’m not really good at that.”
“I know, and I put you on the spot, but just in the next day or so. Please?”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
“Hey, it was really hard to ask.”
The next day he sent me a text: “I don’t know if this qualifies as ‘mushy’ but either way, it deserves to be said.” The following message was wonderful, so privately endearing that even now I smile just to think about it. I read it when I am tired, when I have insomnia at 2 a.m. and feel all alone, when I’m irritable about our incompatible hours.
No, I won’t share what he wrote. It’s something that is just ours. And it was just what I needed to feel loved, even beyond the spoken words I love you.
Know thyself, because in doing so you figure out how to love yourself. And that makes life even better.