What Does “I Love You” Mean?

February 14, 2011
What is the relationship between saying the words “I love you” and the actions you take?

My computer is giving serious signals that it will crash at any moment. So I am writing quickly, saving frequently, and have already put in an order for a new hard drive to be installed Tuesday.

In the meantime, I want to write a story for Valentine’s Day that, for me, illustrates what it means to love someone.

Here’s the story.

About two-and-a-half years ago, a woman who had previously worked for me part-time called to say she desperately needed a place to live and asked if I knew someone from whom she could rent a room. Although she had fibromyalgia and worked as hard as she could as a salesperson, she couldn’t afford much. Nevertheless, she expected a raise and promotion in about three months.

I knew we would be compatible and asked my husband if she could stay with us rent-free to give her a chance to save a little. I knew he wasn’t keen on the idea, but he agreed and she moved in.

What with one thing and another, the promotion didn’t come through and she didn’t move out for 14 months. I knew she was trying to get a better job, so my husband and I allowed extensions, knowing she wasn’t going to stay here forever.

Nevertheless, I could see he wasn’t happy about the adjustments he needed to make, like giving up his bathroom. Then, about a week before she finally left, he said he was counting the days until he could get his bathroom back. As we were talking about the fact that she had stayed longer than we expected, he acknowledged that he really hadn’t wanted her to move in in the first place. So I asked, “Then why did you say she could move in?”

He replied simply, “Because you wanted her to come and I love you.”

His answer is part of the reason we have been married more than fifty years. He doesn’t buy me fancy jewelry. He doesn’t share my spiritual beliefs. He doesn’t read what I write. He isn’t enthusiastic about many of the things I enjoy doing. And I am still waiting for him to finish several things on his to-do list.

However, I don’t have a need for expensive jewelry. I can share my beliefs with others. If people buy my books, I don’t need my husband to read them. And while I can possibly get him to go to one movie a year with me, usually a children’s movie with the grandchildren, yesterday I was very happy to take myself to “The King’s Speech” while he went on a ten-mile hike, which is at least ten times farther than I can go.

All-in-all I think we accommodate one another in many ways and that’s what it means to me when we say “I love you.” And while I would say that we don’t experience ourselves as “soul-mates,” we are definitely “sole-mates.”

Our marriage is, like many marriages of long duration, complex. But it works in large part because we try to live our “I love you” as well as say it. We don’t need to exchange fancy gifts on Valentine’s Day — today I’m giving him chocolate chip cookies I baked from a package of store-bought dough and tonight will give him the same card I gave him last year.  We will say “I love you” and know that it is true for both of us.

One last note about my friend’s stay at our house. She had fibromyalgia, which Half a year after she moved out, she married and soon discovered she had metastasized cancer. She died a  year later. I feel so grateful to my husband for going the extra mile and giving her a place where she could gather strength for the difficult months ahead, although of course, we didn’t know that at the time.

May there be someone in your life whose “I love you” means the willingness to do what needs to be done for a relationship to flourish. And may you do the same thing for him or her.

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Dating Before and After Marriage

July 2, 2010
Discover the importance and pleasure of dating, whether or not you are already married.

Tonight is our date night. Every Friday for more than twenty years, out of fifty, my husband and I have made it a habit to go out to dinner and then on a walk. Sometimes the walk comes first, but it is always our “date” night.

When we first started this, we made it a habit to walk around the city hall and downtown area of every town in Los Angeles County, home to 88 incorporated cities and many unincorporated areas (like the place where we live). We had to miss gated communities that won’t let in just anybody (even though I wrote and asked whether they would make an exception for upstanding citizens like ourselves).

In this fashion we have walked all the way from our house in Altadena, which is up against the San Gabriel Mountains north of Pasadena (the Tournament of Roses city), to the Queen Mary in Long Beach. We have also walked across Los Angeles County from Claremont in the east to Zuma Beach in the west. We would take this in sections, of course, driving to where we ended the last week and continuing on our route.

I think we have probably walked over more of the county of 9,848,011 residents (2009) than most people have. That doesn’t make us better than those who haven’t, of course, but it has given us a perspective that makes us appreciate the rich diversity of the area in which we live. This includes poor and rich neighborhoods alike, and I can tell you that the poor ones were not as scary for our date as Beverly Hills. There we were trying to walk on Sunset, where there are no sidewalks, and even though we stayed far to the edge of the road, the cars were going very fast. Guess they don’t like pedestrians.

These days, since our bodies aren’t as strong as they used to be, we don’t walk as far. We also don’t go so far from home. But the commitment to the routine encourages us to spend time together much like couples do when they are dating.

Incidentally, the picture is of me and my husband in the old part of the city of Quito, Ecuador. Now that is a city with character! You may have seen the video I made of our recent trip there.

If you are married, I heartily encourage you to set aside a night, or day, that you consider your “date” commitment. And it won’t kill you to turn off the Blackberry and cell phone, or you will only be half there with your partner, and get only half the benefit from your time together.

What if you aren’t married and you think a date night sounds interesting but your relationship has ended, you are divorced, and your spouse has died? Where does a date night fit in your plans? Well, first of all, you need to ask yourself some questions to help you “get ready” to date again.

Fortunately, my friend Michelle Vasquez, who specializes in helping people find love after just those kinds of things have happened, is planning a tele-class on July 6 that will cover these questions:

What is on your mind about dating?
Are you ready to start dating again?
Do you wonder about online dating?
Do you think you are ready? (after a breakup? after divorce? after widowhood?)
Do you wonder if the rules have changed since you last dated?

Whatever your burning question is, you can pick Michelle’s brain during this call. Click here to get the sign up information: http://askmichelleanything.com/

I am so glad I don’t need her advice on dating. At this stage of life I’m not sure that I would want to start over again. But marriage has been very good to me and I recommend it to those who are in love.

Are You and Your Partner Like Chalk and Cheese?

June 25, 2010
Are you and your partner happy even though you are as dissimilar as chalk and cheese, or are you happy because you are very much alike?

Children's chalkAbout a week ago my brother shared a post called Chalk and Cheese from the Life With the Campbells blog, saying it reminded him of me and my husband. Curious, I checked it out and decided Molly Campbell definitely has a way with words; she is the second-place winner in the 2010 Erma Bombeck writer’s competition. Her description of the relationship between her and her husband is like that of my marriage, except that in our case the roles are reversed.

Stack of Swiss cheese piecesAfter reading the post, I decided to see whether she had made up the phrase “chalk and cheese” or whether it was an idiom others would understand. So I visited faithful Google again and found in The Phrase Finder that the idiom comes from England and describes two things or people that are very different and have nothing in common, yet are used together. Think about “hocus-pocus, the bee’s knees, riff-raff, etc.” There doesn’t seem to be much purpose in the rhyming or connection of these words expect that they go together in a fun sort of way.

Certainly you wouldn’t confuse chalk and cheese, just as you wouldn’t confuse me with my husband, even beyond the physical characteristics. This is what I wrote in a comment on Molly’s post in describing how the roles in our marriage are like the roles in her marriage except that the roles are reversed:

He’s an engineer and I couldn’t understand what he does if my life depended on it. I’m a therapist with a spiritual bent and have written three books, none of which he’s read (says he’s not a reader, which is true, but couldn’t he at least read his wife’s?).

When something happens, he takes his sweet time to decide what he feels about it. I immediately know what I feel in a situation. (In psychology this is called being a slow-responder and fast-responder). However, after fifty years, some of his traits have rubbed off on me and I guess some of mine on his.

What two words would describe your relationship with someone with whom you are connected in some way — partner, spouse, friend, child, neighbor, parent, sibling, etc. — that express similarities or dissimilarities?

Would you choose common words like “cat and dog,” which conjures up an image of fairly constant fighting? Or would it be “soft and softer?” There are all kinds of words and phrases that describe relationships. How would you describe yours?

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons