4 Misconceptions About Love We Have as Men

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“I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth has been severed.

She will be thus from now on.

The surgeon had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve.

Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily?

The young woman speaks. “Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks.

“Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.”

She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles.

“I like it,” he says. “It is kind of cute.” All at once I know who he is. I understand and I lower my gaze.

One is not bold in an encounter with a god.

Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works.”

From Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery by Richard Selzer

I fashion myself a rugged sort, but this story  seldom fails to make the corners of my eyes burn with threatening tears. Why?

Because it’s a glimpse of what love actually looks like.

Raw nerves. A bonded pair facing an uncertain future, together.

A kiss that will always work.

If my life has taught me anything, it’s that love doesn’t look like the image popular culture has planted in our heads. It isn’t heart shaped and rosy red, bordered with lace. It isn’t flower strewn and candy coated. It is often neither minty nor chocolatey. We have a lot of misconceptions about love.

No, love is grittier than all of that. It has ragged edges and peeling paint and dents and scratches. It’s seen trial and tribulation and come out tattered but tempered. Sure, love has its flashes of sparks, but between the Hallmark and Harlequin moments there lies a whole lot of Home Depot. How you approach love in the everyday is what gives it power.

In my estimation, there are a few things we need to better understand about love as men in order to properly navigate its waters:

Misconceptions about love include our need to be “the strong one.”

Brene Brown puts it bluntly: “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love.” Shielding yourself from the querying gaze of someone you love is to put yourself in a position of having a dual existence, having to be ever mindful of hitting your lines as you play the character who bears your same name, only able to be your true self when you’re alone.

If you desire to truly love someone, you must allow them to dive headlong into your deepest waters. Yes, you should keep your inner reserves replenished so your partner can be a source of strength to lean on. But that doesn’t mean you’re supposed to be a rock that absorbs all and emits nothing.

Too often as men we treat a relationship like a system or a machine in which certain inputs will yield corresponding outputs. The better paradigm is to think of a relationship like an ecosystem, a garden if you will, where energy input tends to encourage growth, but not of a type you can control. Things will blossom and bear fruit in their own time, but only if you allow things to take root and grow in you, as well. That can’t happen if you’re not vulnerable.

And don’t give me this “Bah gawd, I’m the HEAD of MY HOUSEHOLD” nonsense. You’re both toiling against the same burden, yoked together with one another. If you’re going to display leadership, you should be doing it from the side as you walk together in lock step.

Love doesn’t always mean being fulfilled – it requires sacrifice.

Love requires understanding that the needs of “we” may not match the desires of “me,” and being willing to honor that truth in deed. If you get hung up on the perceived “rights” you have in a relationship, on what you personally “deserve,” you’ll find the going rough indeed.

There is a toughness to love that gets lost in the pink and fluff of popular culture.

Everyone figures they’d be willing to take a bullet for the one they love, but the truest test isn’t whether you’d lay down your life — it’s whether you’d lay down a Tuesday evening to do something they want but you don’t. Or your eating habits to support them in a diet. Or a million other things nobody’s going to be chiseling into your headstone someday.

If you’re only present and affectionate when it’s convenient to you, your partner isn’t a love.

They’re a hobby.

Love isn’t a competition: It requires being a safe harbor.

Affection and suspicion cannot easily coexist. The one you seek to love must find in you the safest of places, a solace in storm, a balm when they’ve been burned. If they feel they must defend against not only what faces them, but also against the one who should have their back, their exhaustion will quickly manifest itself.

Our misconceptions about love can include this idea that a “good partner” will ensure we’re always at our utmost happiest and keeping us fulfilled. News flash: That’s not their job, it’s yours. If you sit around waiting for someone to impute value and meaning and joy into your life, you’re going to live a frustrated life indeed. Work on yourself, and find meaning in giving.

Comport yourself in such a manner that your partner should have no question as to where they can retreat to when all else is lost.

Love doesn’t look like Valentine’s Day. Sometimes, love is ugly.

I pastored a small church once upon a time. Within weeks of my installation, a fixture in the community — a burly dairyman with a kind heart and a ready smile — got the most dreadful news.

Pancreatic cancer.

I ministered to the family as best I could as a twenty-something country preacher. I anointed him with oil and prayed with him and his family. I visited them at their home. Once a Mennonite family came with a week’s worth of home cooked meals, and we all talked and wept and sang quiet hymns together while the cows grazed outside.

I watched as his legs grew tired. As his eyes grew yellow.

If you won’t walk here with the one you’re with, you’re not ready for everything love means.

But I also watched his wife. A woman who never seemed to grow weary of filling all the gaps and vacuums left in the wake of his weakness. A woman who wrung the bulk of her tears out in private so her weakening husband wasn’t compelled to prop her up.

I watched her care for and minister to her husband in the midst of sleeplessness and sorrow, by his side until the moment one last breath escaped his lips. I stood on the stage at his funeral, looking over hundreds of people packed into our sanctuary as I eulogized him. I met eyes with his wife. On her drawn face she wore grief, and fatigue, and relief, and memory.

And love.

Her valley had been brutal, dark and punishing. But there in the shadows, as fear and pain rained their blows upon her, was love. For it isn’t the breathless first days of relationship which show the strength of a love, but the breathless last.

Would you allow yourself riven by the gaze of your love? Would you lay yourself down that they might prosper as they do the same for you? Would you work to ensure the waters you share are still so that they might be at peace in your presence?

Would you traverse the darkest of valleys with them?

Would you work to get past the misconceptions about love you have?

If so, you may find yourself privy to the beauty, the horror — the power — of love.


This post was previously published on THEUNBOTHEREDFATHER.COM.



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