By Skye Thomas
How do you show someone you love them? Do you buy them expensive gifts? Spend quality time together? Make personal sacrifices just to see them smile? Dedicate a song to them? Write a love letter or note of encouragement? Become their cheerleader? Those are wonderful things to do but my question goes deeper then those types of activities, even beyond your romantic partner. Think about your parents, your children, your best friend, your sister, or your brother… anyone you love. How do you really show them that you love them? Reverse the question if you like – how do you really know if someone loves you?
The answer lies in getting to know them. To truly love someone is to care about them to the very depth of who and what they are, what they believe, what they like, what they dislike, how they respond under pressure. It’s so much more than what’s their favorite color? Who’s their favorite musician? All time favorite movie? It’s knowing that they don’t like fruit flavors in their colas, no cherry or lemon cokes. It’s knowing just what temperature she likes her bubble bath. It’s knowing that he prefers wearing cotton and why. It’s knowing the perfect birthday present when they didn’t even know what to ask for. It’s looking at each other across a room and sharing a private joke without saying a word. Loving someone is the ability to see past the polite response to “How’s it going?” and knowing that they really aren’t “Fine, thanks.”
How do you get to that point? You watch them. You observe them. You ask them questions. You really listen to their answers. You figure it out. Why do you put so much time and energy into it? Because you love them. Because they fascinate you. Because you really don’t have anything more important to do with your time. You are really truly present. You don’t ever stop. How many relationships fizzle because we simply grow apart? We grow apart because we aren’t paying attention to each other anymore. We are no longer connected.
Maybe you’re bitter because your own needs aren’t being met. Fair enough. It sucks to be in a one sided relationship. No argument there. Tell them. Tell them you feel ignored, unimportant, distant, like it just isn’t special anymore. Tell your mother you miss being really connected and close. Tell your lover you feel like the two of you are running on autopilot and it just isn’t that incredible close relationship that you once had. Tell your teenager that you hate the distance that’s growing between you. Reach out afterwards and ask them to share their heart’s secrets with you. “Tell me who you are. Tell me what you dream of. Tell me, do you still love chocolate ice cream with Oreos on the side for breakfast? Tell me what your soul’s made of, and I’ll tell you about mine.” Then listen, really listen. Hear their answers.
Nobody can truly be close to me and not know that Melissa Etheridge sings to my soul. You can’t listen to her song Talking to my Angels and not think of me. If you really loved me enough to know me personally, you’d know that they’ll be playing her song, This War Is Over at my funeral some day. You’d know that I long to visit Ireland and that I love fairies because I think they’re our guardian angels. You’d know about “those two people” that I write these articles and stories for. You’d know what “the Winnebago Years” are all about. You’d know that when I’m really angry and losing control that you need to distract me with something logical to wrap my brain around and I’ll suddenly start pulling myself back together. You’d know that lying is my biggest pet peeve.
What do I know about the people I love? I know that she doesn’t drink caffeine anymore and always orders strawberry lemonades when we go to lunch. I know when he lies to protect me and when he lies to protect himself. I know by the look in their eyes, when my children are starting to get sick. I know why she keeps trying to become a vegetarian and why she fails at it. I know that music haunts his soul even though he’s stuck working as a salesman. What would I know about you if I loved you enough to really get to know you?
Are we so wrapped up in ourselves, our careers, our own personal schedules and goals that we forget to really connect with our loved ones? When was the last time you really checked into the hearts and minds of those you profess to love? We all change, grow, evolve. Are they still the same people you fell in love with? How would you know? I’m not who I was fifteen or twenty years ago, or even the same person I was five years ago. Are you? Are they?
What’s the greatest gift you can give someone? Your full attention and focus. Take the time to really get to know them after all these years. Fall in love with them all over again. Get to know them as if you’ve just met. Of course you have to honor their secrets, be loyal, don’t use the information to play power games or to ever belittle them. That destroys trust. Use the information to pick out the perfect gift, to plan the perfect vacation, to surprise them with a movie they’ve never seen but will love, or to simply bring them their coffee with the perfect amount of cream and sugar before they even realized that they wanted some.
It can be as simple as asking them, “Tell me about yourself. Tell me what the world looks like through your eyes.” Create the little moments that say ‘I love you’ by knowing what ‘I love you’ looks like to them.