How to Appreciate What You Have Vs. Craving What You Think You Deserve: A Simple Recipe for Joyous Living
He doesn’t love me.
However, he compliments me no end, all the time, on my body, brains, accomplishments, the things I do for him. I could go on and on.
But he doesn’t love me.
However he appreciates a million million things about who I am and what I do. He’s proud of the things I get done, the awards I’ve won, and he loves to read my writing. He loves that I’m a serious badass athlete and I really work hard to be healthy. So does he.
But he doesn’t love me.
Still, he chooses me above all others, and I am the one he spends time with, when he has time to spend with the opposite sex. As a handsome, much younger man he has options. Yet here he is.
I know a great many women who would trade their angry, complaining, overweight, self-absorbed spouses for a tenth of what this man does for me: how he behaves, open doors, orders my food like a gentleman, makes me feel gorgeous, calls to ask if I need something from the store on his way home from the gym.
At 65, I guarantee you that far too many women my age don’t have a fraction of a fraction of what I have.
Including bug-your-eyes-out sex, which, since we are both athletes, is pretty mind-blowing.
But he doesn’t love me.
After a bumpy, complex, off-and -on relationship spanning more than ten years, he showed back up after a long hiatus, effectively hat in hand, and asked to hang out with me again. We both are happier together than apart. I said yes, not without trepidation, but I took the leap.
But he doesn’t love me.
Get Over Yourself
Here’s the thing:
I can choose to concentrate on what I don’t have, which could (and very frequently does) lead to bitching, moaning, griping and haranguing that sends a potentially great partner running for the hills. I don’t have a man who is constantly expressing his undying devotion, writing me poetry, telling me how much he loves me.
Uh, okay. So?
Or, I can be immensely grateful for this handsome, well-built fellow athlete with whom I have a lot of fun. Is he ass-over-teakettle in love?
NO. Over time, and sometimes quite unkindly, he has made this abundantly clear. That doesn’t make him a bad person. He has a right to his feelings. For all I know, they may have changed. This is not something he discusses.
However, over time and after ten (yes, you read that right, TEN) breakups, all of which hurt like a sonofabitch, he’s living in my house. He has his own bedroom, bathroom, space to himself. It’s temporary until he buys his own place. After that I have no clue. And that doesn’t matter either. We have “girlfriend/boyfriend rights,” enjoy the same movies, love hockey and football. We sometimes eat together, more often make meals separately. If I’m home and have time I’ll throw his laundry in the wash. It’s not expected, but boy is it appreciated. So are the wicked little soft porn notes I leave on his computer downstairs, or fire to him at work. I know what he likes. And as I have time, it gives me a great deal of pleasure to deliver.
Last Sunday when he disappeared for a few hours I barely took notice. When he got back, it turned out he’d gone to Wendy’s for French fries.
There are women who would go ballistic over such a thing. Who would demand to know where he was and who he was with.
Dear god. No wonder people break up.
In a thoughtful article in Psychology Today by author Preston NI, M.S.B.A, (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/communication-success/201507/top-10-reasons-relationships-fail) Ni explores the top ten reasons why relationships fail. Fundamental to this is communication (at all levels) but also, recognizing that we all morph over time. Staying open, soft and curious rather than angry, judgmental and critical goes a long way towards building mutual respect and a continued to desire to please one another.
Here’s what I’ve learned that seems to work. May not for you if you operate out of fear and control in your relationships, but here goes:
- Be happy all the time…whether or not your partner is around. This doesn’t mean don’t have bad days or troughs or emergencies- we all do- but to be happy enough in your own company that you aren’t desperately needing affirmation from someone else.
- You aren’t owed anything. When you get the gift of good company, be grateful, rather than pick apart what you’re not getting (but he doesn’t love me)
- Respect boundaries. Put the time in to understand likes and dislikes. Then respect them. We are each of us constantly-evolving, complex universes. Hell half the time we hardly know what we want ourselves. It’s not someone else’s job to figure that out for us. So if someone’s having a bad day, chances are it’s not always about you. It’s just a bad day. Let it be. A good partner will let you know if there is something you can do. If not, then don’t take it personally.
- Have a full and engaging life that works whether or not you have a partner. That makes you interesting enough to draw good company to you.
- Allow for space. That means time apart. That’s where YOUR full life comes in. If you place the burden of your happiness on another person, you both are doomed. It’s a full-time job doing our best to find out what makes US happy rather than then be charged with another fruitless, full-time job trying to make someone else happy. The books I read, the trips I take, the time I spend with other people serve to make me engaging and challenging. He regularly says he “needs to read more to keep up.” He kids that I talk a lot. I do. But he also says that what I have to say is interesting. That doesn’t come from sitting around on my ass all day mooning about him. He’s not the center of my existence, nor would he want to be. I fully recognize this doesn’t work for everyone. But what does work for you? Do you even know? Or are you operating on a Disney World or this-is -my family-version of what a relationship “should” be?
- LET GO. When this guy moves out back into his own place, and he will (so would I, as we all love our own spaces) he may or may not continue with me. I have no control over that. Having that spectre hang over my head like the Sword of Damocles is one way to completely ruin what time we do have. Two years ago I’d have laughed you out of the house had you told me that this man and I would be living in the same home. Yet here we are. We simply do not know. To let the crippling fear of “But what if….” ruin the laughter, the playful emails, the quiet evolution of whatever is happening now is the joy-killing height of stupidity.
And it’s also why there are so many people on Match.com et. al., which is, in fact, where we met. Back in 2008 I complimented him on his hockey- and soccer-sculpted tree-trunk thighs, and he was impressed by my stories about diving with Great Whites in Africa. It didn’t hurt that when we met for our first date at Outback we knocked each other’s socks off, because (and here’s a shocker) both the photos and the stories were accurate. It’s been quite the journey since, not without its challenges. By the same token, those very challenges have taught me to be far more appreciative of what I do have, and how to be in the moment, had we not had them.
But But But
A few years before my mother died, she fell in love with an old friend of the family. She had sex (her first in at least forty years), affection, conversation, and entertaining phone calls every Friday night until she passed at 91. We should all get such gifts. Yet all she could do was moan and complain that Ed didn’t want to marry her (he was an athlete and Mom was tied to an oxygen machine and going blind). She missed everything else for concentrating on what she didn’t have, and what Ed simply didn’t have to give her.
He didn’t love her, or to put it more succinctly, he didn’t give her what she felt entitled to. She had love. Just like I do. Love wears a great many faces. To disregard, disrespect or denigrate what people offer us is to rob ourselves of some of life’s greatest gifts.
One other relationship book which as quite rightfully stood the test of time is The Five Love Languages. With good reason it is #19 on the Amazon most-sold list (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OICLVBI/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1). That book has likely saved more marriages and partnerships than any investment in counseling. For my part, it helped me define that I’m a gift giver (he’s not), he expresses himself physically (so do I), and that we are also both highly verbal. But he doesn’t say I love you. Know what? BFD. In the largest scheme of things this is meaningless. It’s just not who he is. I would wager that many a potentially wonderful relationship has been ruined by the same kind of unfair expectation or lack of empathy, which is why both the wedding and divorce industries are booming.
Back in 2010 when we were only two years into this journey I wrote a book called WordFood: How We Feed or Starve our Relationships (https://www.amazon.com/product-reviews/B005VTNA5C/ref=acr_search_see_all?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=)1. I dedicated the book to him (which also blew his socks off) The book, inspired in part by our relationship, speaks to the critical importance about how we wield our words, most especially in our intimate and business relationships, and what kinds of “nourishment” we need every day from each other. Both positively and negatively, this man taught me critically important life lessons about how words are the sun, rain and soft winds of love and encouragement, and either silence (starvation) or toxic ones can cut us right to our hearts.
And Here’s What I Expect from YOU…
Before you complain about how you’re owed this or that from your partner, how about making a laundry list of what you DO get? Even better, how about taking stock of what you’re giving that person to inspire them to want to please and be around you? What kinds of small favors, kindnesses, affectionate notes or whatever your partner loves to receive are you willing to give first? How about investing some time in finding out precisely what love language they speak, which may or may not match yours? Don’t want to bother? Then enjoy your time on those dating sites. It can get very lonely out there for self-centered, angry people who love to complain about how “all men” or “all women” are assholes.
Not only is this patently untrue, it also doesn’t allow for the vast and endless variety that we present to each other. Relationships are nothing if not a constant exploration of new lands. Even better, since we are indeed constantly evolving, the boundaries of those new lands are forever expanding. What determines success is whether that search is conducted with an expectation of being delighted and charmed or under the black cloud of constantly finding things wrong. Either way, you will be right. You’ll make sure of it.
A fun and often charming article which speaks to the knee-jerk use of “I Love You” is https://www.bustle.com/articles/97354-why-you-dont-always-have-to-say-i-love-you-because-there-are-other-ways. My favorite? The kid who says in that searingly honest way of the very young, “I love you too but I just don’t like you all the time.” Bingo.
We may not always get what we want. But we most assuredly get what we need. Understanding the difference is one of the keys to real joy.
I am immensely fortunate. He doesn’t love me- or at least he doesn’t say so- and it doesn’t make a damned bit of difference. I have joy. In a world where far too many spend too much time finding fault with someone they say they love, I count myself one of the lucky ones. And I do my best to make sure he knows it.