It was one of those magical encounters with a personal truth—you know how it feels. I was fifteen, in ninth-grade English. The teacher, Mr. Rizzutto, read us a poem, and it had such a profound effect on me that even five decades later, I’m still using it as a guide. The poem, “Outwitted,” by Edwin Markham, is simple:
He drew a circle that shut me out;
Heretic; rebel; a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.
Learning to apply it in my life has not been simple, but it has been amazingly educational and rewarding. This book is about drawing the circle with love.
There was a time when life seemed very hard, so hard I tried not to think about it.. Several times I helped to destroy some very viable relationships. Changing myself, my life and my loves has been very exciting and fulfilling, yet I am still growing. This book is intended to help you reach your desired destination on your own journey and make your hard places a little easier.
The most powerful technique I’ve learned is to be gentle with myself, and to appreciate every baby step I take. It’s from this appreciation and celebration of myself that I draw the energy and enthusiasm I need. From it comes my motivation to grow and to achieve more. From it also comes the trust that allows me more and more to live life as I find it, without needing to make it fit my plan.
I hope the information in this book will help you to be gentle with yourself and others and to help you celebrate. The information and exercises are intended to help you understand what works for you and your partner, and to help you create something wonderful together.
Throughout the process of becoming more conscious and aware of myself, which began for me in about 1970, the important changes did not happen in great blinding flashes or dramatic moments in important workshops. Rather, they came in small, significant insights gained as I sat alone and pondered the ideas of my teachers in relationship to the facts of my life. Such a moment happened early in my marriage, as I was attempting to sort out a difficulty between my husband Richard and myself.
We were having trouble entertaining. It was awkward, irritating and difficult. It never went smoothly. I had recently been in two long-lasting roommate situations, two years with Annie and two years with Ron, just before getting married. In both situations, entertaining had been fun and easy, right from the start. Why was it so difficult now? Why was a sexual relationship so much more difficult than my roommate situations? Ron and Annie and I had entertained with such style. Aha! Style! That was it! I didn’t know what Richard’s and my style was! And sex did play a part: because of the intimacy of our relationship, I hadn’t asked or observed or discovered Richard’s style the way I had with my roommates. Instead, I had assumed I knew him.
I clarified my discovery a bit and shared it with Richard. And like magic, merely because we were aware of the need to know, we discovered our respective styles. We asked each other questions, we talked, we demonstrated, we fantasized. We had fun. And we learned about each other’s favorite ways of entertaining. From there it was a small, simple step to developing or synthesizing our own unique combined style. Now, it’s smooth and easy. We know the glass cabinet containing the crystal is softly lit; the lights are turned low; incense burns in discreet, strategic places; flowers are everywhere; the pottery oil lamps are lit; wine is chilled: snacks are placed out in beautiful crystal dishes; and voilà! Instant atmosphere! Instant party!
We are now capable of setting this up in fifteen minutes, in a pinch. We rarely falter, trip over each other or get irritated. Richard has his favorite responsibilities and I have mine—yet we can each cover for the other when necessary. And we can do it all without much discussion.
An added bonus is, if I want Richard to feel romantic and “special occasion” without a big announcement, I can just do a part of the “party” routine, and he’s inclined to be in a party mood. It’s very handy, direct, easy and effective way to let him know I think he’s special. Either of us can use the signals.
Since then, we’ve been conscious about style. We have developed a hot-tub style, a summer barbecue style, a traveling style, an evening-out style, a work style, and a hanging-out style. Actually, these styles are largely what we’d have done anyway. It’s the understanding and awareness of the style that makes the difference.
Clarity about style also makes it easy to change and communicate new ideas to each other. It’s also easy to manage help when we have it, because we both know what needs to be done. Developing new styles becomes a challenge and a delightful pastime.
After seeing the impact style-consciousness made on my home life, I began to consider its implications in more profound ways. I began discussing it with friends and clients and suggesting uses of style for clients in their problem- solving processes. Everyone found it a simple and effective idea.
After getting similar positive responses in lectures and workshops, this book was conceived, in three parts: (1) a philosophical discussion of the importance of style in matters of love; (2) a series of exercises designed to help you discover your own and others’ styles; and (3) a brief discussion of how individual styles can mesh with the larger social environment.
I hope this easy- to- grasp idea of styles is as profound and effective in your life as it has been in mine.
There’s a pervasive myth in our society that there is a right and a wrong way to love. However, there’s not much clarity about what is the right way. We all have difficulty with relationships, difficulty with love; therefore, we’re liable to draw the uncomfortable conclusion: “Everyone knows how to love correctly except me.” At times, when frustrated by a lover, you may indeed believe that everyone knows how to love except your partner!
This attitude leads to blaming, defensiveness, accusing and a general shutdown of any loving feelings. You may feel helpless, betrayed, incompetent, angry and lost. If you become defensive and withdraw from your beloved, things get worse.
There are as many ways of loving as there are people—and none of them is wrong. Some ways of loving do work better than others, but there are an infinite number of ways that work extremely well. This is good news, for it ends forever the fear that love can become boring, or that you can become bored with it. When looked at from this perspective, the object of relationships becomes to discover each other’s way of loving (lovestyle), to learn the style of loving your partner uses and to teach him or her the joys of your own style. In this way, each relationship adds to your options for love. Each couple synthesizes a new lovestyle out of the two they bring together; which is uniquely theirs and which can be restructured as their lifestyles change and grow.
I can't really define what love is for you, because each of you has your own unique experience with love. But I can separate it from several things it is not, and list some very general attributes of it.
We experience love on many ways: romantic, practical, spiritual, familial, unconditional, passionate, selfish, and so on. In this book, I’m talking about love at the practical level, as in our day-to-day relationships.
As we experience it in primary relationships, love is one person’s positive experience of another.
Love tends to bring separate people together.
• Love is sharing and caring.
• Love unites us.
• Love is your willingness to share yourself.
Love is a state of being, a feeling, not an action. It is warmth, connectedness, and a desire to be closer. It’s my concern for your well-being as well as my own. Love is someone’s recognition in the other of the things he or she likes most about self. Love is not critical or separating; it is accepting and supportive.
We hear much, especially in popular songs, movies, etc., about how painful love is. I disagree. Love doesn’t hurt; whatever hurts in a relationship is not love. Love isn’t limiting, it’s freeing.
Love is how you feel; not what you do. The expression of love is one degree removed from the feeling itself. How you behave is not necessarily an accurate barometer of how you love—that depends on your understanding of love and your ability to express yourself effectively.
Love is a feeling; the expression of love is an art. As with any art, there can be a wide gap between what is expressed and what is felt. The difference between expression and feeling has several contributing factors: self-awareness, honesty, safety, intent and fantasy. As with art, practice and knowledge of technique are helpful.
COMMUNICATION AND MISCOMMUNICATION
Whether you love or not is subject only to your own opinion, no one else’s. The proper answer to the age-old demand, “If you love me, you’ll_____” is: “Wrong. I do love you, but I’m not going to do that,” or, “I’ll do that, but it’s not a test of my love.”
Frequently in counseling I’ve seen people let themselves be talked right out of loving each other, like this: When person A says, “If you loved me, you’d…” most often he or she is feeling insecure and asking for reassurance, but asking ineffectively, because it sounds like a demand. When B is also insecure, and if he or she is unwilling to do whatever is being demanded, B then tends to doubt his or her own loving: “Gee, maybe I don’t love you enough. I’m not willing to do that.” When A gets this doubtful response on top of his or her initially insecure feelings, A panics: “Oh no! B doesn’t really love me!” At this point, both A and B are convinced that it’s not working, and everything can go downhill from there, because of simple misunderstanding.
While love is not a behavior but a feeling, accurate and effective communication of feelings is important. It can be very frustrating to love and be unable to communicate that love. We all know the experience of loving someone very much and having them perceive our love as something else. Marsha: “I loved him so much; I never wanted to be away from him for a minute.” Bill: “She smothered me! She had no regard for my feelings! I hated it!” Behavior contributes to accurate expression and is therefore important. It does you no good to love if your behavior is consistently interpreted as unloving.
As in any art, it’s necessary to know what you want to express in order to express it effectively. Your personal way of expressing and receiving love is your lovestyle.
© 2011 Tina B. Tessina adapted from: Lovestyles: How to Celebrate Your Differences