This morning I was sitting on the beat-up wicker chair in my bedroom, tying my shoes. I looked across to the bed just as Little Richard tippy-toed over to cuddle up next to Mick, nestling his head on top of Mick’s upper back. Is it love? Or a show of fealty, acknowledging Mick’s dominance in their relationship?
I can’t read dogs’ minds, but I can tell you this – it’s always Rich seeking out Mick. Always. If Mick is curled up in the dog bed near my desk, eventually Rich will join him. Rich is the cuddler (lover) and Mick is cuddled (the beloved). They are pals, but not equals.
It seems to me that love is rarely equally given and received. Now, I haven’t been married for many, many years, so I’m only going to lightly touch on this topic in regard to marital love. It appears to me that the Lover vs. Beloved relationship isn’t static. Illness, retirement, empty nest – all kinds of life events can tip the seesaw of who is overtly loved/cared for versus being the one in a more supportive role.
How about parents and children? It’s my thought that in the best of circumstances, parents love and the children are beloved. I’m not saying kids (of any age) don’t love back. In fact, we all know of sad situations where an errant mother or father may be unconditionally loved by a child long after the parent’s behavior ceased to warrant that love or respect. Under less-than-ideal circumstances, the love between parents and children can be complicated, to say the least. Best case, it’s pretty balanced. But — when you are a parent, part of loving is hoping that your child will one day find a partner that she or he wholeheartedly loves – above all others. That includes Mom and Dad.
And between friends? I think this can be the most interesting dynamic of all. If I am fortunate to have many friends, does that dilute the amount of love that I can share with each? My thought is we can say we love our friends, but I’d say that one of the more important ways that we demonstrate that love is by spending time with them. Can someone be one of your dearest friends if you rarely spend time together?
I’m not saying that only face-to-face time counts. Certainly in our world of social media, free phone calls to anywhere in the U.S., and various modes of transportation that at least make it possible to get together (imagine being a pioneer woman leaving her best friend behind when she went West with her husband – likely to never set foot back home again), today it’s very possible for a long distance friend to remain a cherished pal with whom we regularly communicate.
It wasn’t that long ago, by the way, that good, old-fashioned letters were our lifelines to loved ones far away. When I went to Australia to teach in the 70’s, weekly letters to and from home were my only communication with family. Phone calls were so expensive, we spoke just on Christmas and on my birthday. I received letters from friends only very occasionally. We all were so busy with our young lives; that’s just how it was. Everyone was pleased to see me when I came home, and vice versa. But those friendships were pretty much on hold during the years I was gone.
Today, when I look at different degrees of closeness in my relationships with friends, I sometimes see the Lover vs. Beloved dynamic in play. For instance, as a single person with several very dear married friends, I see myself as the Lover. That’s because my friends with partners must (and hopefully want to) put their spouses first. I understand that completely and wish those I love to have happy, loving relationships with their husbands or other partner. I’d be a pretty lousy friend if I thought otherwise.
The consequence is that it is rarely, if ever, that my invitation to get together takes precedence over plans with a spouse. I’ve had friends who I feel very close to, and have known for years, who I have seen on a weekend fewer times than I can count on one hand. I think women may be more accommodating to husbands in this regard, but again, not being married myself, I’m not sure.
With more casual friends and acquaintances, it’s nice to get together when the opportunity arises. The love is there, but not as deep, you know? The effort to meet needs to be reciprocal, however. If one friend is always the one to suggest lunch or a movie or any activity, she may tire of nurturing the friendship if it seems that the effort is one-sided. To have a friend, you need to be a friend.
We all suck at that sometimes, don’t we? Good friends know when life is challenging and you need that extra nurturing for a while. Don’t drop a friend who seems uninterested in initiating plans unless you have a chat about it first. In my case, I sincerely enjoy the company of some wonderful people, but I’m an introvert. A homebody. If I have more than one or two things going on in a week, I begin to feel like a turtle, wanting to draw her head back into her quiet shell for a while. It’s not that I don’t love you. Promise.
You are beloved.
So. Lover vs. Beloved. Do you sometimes see those lines drawn in your relationships? Does it flow back and forth between you and your partner, friends, or family members?
And finally – does it matter?