The voice on the other end of the phone was as familiar as my own.
His despondent tone was loud and clear, the glum feelings that were expressed through his spoken words, typical.
As I listened to this person who I care deeply for, I found myself rolling my eyes and not harboring the empathy that my response conveyed. Though I felt badly that he felt badly, it was a recurring scenario. One that I’ve grown accustomed to and, dare I say, indifferent toward.
In the moments that followed our conversation, it was more than the line that disconnected. It was as if I was unfazed by the discomfort of my partner. I had heard these same complaints countless times and they no longer affected me. I interjected when necessary, poured on a bit of pity, and insincerely soothed what ailed him.
Disappointed with my reaction—or lack thereof—I considered my response and was forced to ask myself a difficult question.
How loving am I?
If someone responded to me in the way that I responded to him, I would see, hear, and feel right through it. Words and actions that don’t align and superficial sentiments are like nails on a chalkboard for me. I would be miffed at the insincerity and think twice before I would share my thoughts and experiences with that person again.
Yet I treated someone else, someone dear to me, in a way that I would not want to be treated. His feelings are important and, though I couldn’t relate to the angst and upset, it was wearing heavily on his heart and mind.
In return, I should have at minimum stopped in my tracks, actively listened, and responded with sincerity. But I didn’t. I tossed around appropriate words at appropriate times while multitasking and readying myself to move on to what was next.
How loving am I?
It was an aha moment, and it seems like I’m having a lot of those lately as I navigate through mid-life.
I am unafraid and willing to take a critical look at myself—all parts of myself. There are some wonderful and admirable characteristics for which I am grateful, yet I am discovering some ugly aspects of my personality that are new. Or maybe they have been buried deep within me, lying dormant until the right situation came along and freed them.
Despite being comprised of a complex amalgam of strengths and weaknesses, I have always considered myself a giving person. My commitment to those I love and care for is unyielding. My loyalty is unwavering. My willingness to go to the ends of the earth for them is limitless. And this is not restricted to my inner circle. It extends to acquaintances and strangers alike.
But how loving am I?
My mindful exploration uncovered some dark truths, which I will readily admit. That’s the only way I can dig deeper and make efforts to rectify it.
I took a hard look at the similarities and differences between love and loving as they are defined.
To love is to take pleasure in someone or thrive in their company. It is to hold that person dear, cherishing them, and feeling their passion, devotion, and tenderness for you. Love is something you feel and own.
You can love someone yet not be loving toward them. There is a difference between the two.
A loving person demonstrates tenderness, compassion, and sensitivity to the needs of others. She strives to offer pleasure and satisfaction. She is present and attuned, listens to what is being said, and can see through those words if falsely stated. She will take your hand, caress your heart, and keep you safe.
Loving someone is an action, a way of life. It is a choice one makes each day to show up and care. It is not saying the words, but living them.
How loving am I?
After much deliberation and a heated cross-examination with my heart and mind, the answer was revealed. This is by no means a justification for my response that day or a way to make myself feel better, but an honest evaluation of the introspection that followed.
I was not unfazed. I was not indifferent and I was not insincere. In fact, I am the polar opposite.
My reaction was learned behavior. It was the result of years spent as a fixer. Serve a problem my way and I will return a solution. If you complain, you must need someone to solve it. If you express the desire to try something, I’ll set you up with everything you need to get started and thrive.
Truth is, I’m exhausting for someone who is just exploring ideas or needs to vent.
The reality is this.
As much as I love and care for my partner, I have finally learned to accept him for who he is and where he’s at. I no longer try to own or fix his problems. He needs to vent. He wants to be heard. He likes to complain. And I am at peace with that.
I lend an ear without applying an endless supply of reasoning or logic. In doing so, my frustrations and irritations with him not handling matters in the way that I would, no longer weighs heavily on our relationship. It doesn’t percolate then boil over, causing steamy discussions, heated disagreements, or upsets that just don’t need to be.
We still challenge each other and provoke thought through our varied views and perspectives. We regularly engage in lively and passionate conversations. But our relationship has evolved. Our communication style has grown in kindness and compassion.
We are different, and it’s not my job to raise him—I’m not his mother. It’s to love him for who he is and accept him fully.
In doing so, this may actually be the most loving act of all.