I am friends with a couple whom I have known for many years. They have been together for a long time and are well liked and respected by many people. Over the years, however, I've noticed something about them that seems to be pretty common. I am using them as an example in this post, but I'm not meaning to single them out or pick on them. What I've noticed is most obvious with gift-giving and communication, but really permeates many aspects of their relationship.
For this example I'll use Christmas, since that is a major gift-giving holiday and right around the corner. Each year, the man tries to come up with a wonderful gift for the woman. He will sometimes enlist my help or the help of another friend to fulfill his Christmas surprise, but he always comes up with the gift idea himself. Some years, it is some specific piece of jewelry she has told him she wants. Other times it is a very specific item she has mentioned, from a top-of-the-line appliance for the kitchen to an instrument she wants to learn to play to some new and expensive tech gadget. No matter what it is, the idea always originates from something she said she wanted that he paid attention to and filed away for the right time.
Sounds sweet, right? The problem is, that when the woman says "I'd like a top-of-the-line Cuisinart ice cream maker," what she really means is "You know me well enough to know that I would never, ever use that and that it would sit on our counter collecting dust. I would really like you to take me on a date every week." And when she says, "I'd love to have the new iPhone," what she really means is, "I would have no idea what to do with an iPhone, but would you make plans for us to go out of town some weekend and surprise me?"
Sadly, in both cases, the guy thinks "Track down a Cuisinart ice cream machine and give it to her for Christmas." Or, not being a tech-guy, he thinks, "Find someone to help me purchase an iPhone and load it with any apps that might be interesting to her." So that is what he does. And when she opens the gift, she always reacts in a way that lets him know he didn't win. Oh, she may act shocked or even tell him thank you, but then she will make some comment about not knowing how to make ice cream or how expensive it is probably going to be to have an iPhone. So she will end up disappointed with her gift and he will left be wondering how he got it wrong. Again. When he got her exactly what she wanted. And he will not ask her what is up and why she never loves the gifts he gives her that she'd said she was longing for. They never talk about it.
And I see this type of thing time and time again. Maybe it isn't always with gifts, but a similar miscommunication happens in many relationships Most books and movies and television shows seem to perpetuate this idea that if a person loves you, they will automatically know what you are thinking and what to say to you and what you need. Buying into this keeps us thinking that a person's devotion somehow hinges on their ability to acquire magical, mind-reading abilities to summon up exactly what you want them to say at the exact time you want to hear it or to know exactly what you want even if you've never let on it's what you want. And if they can't, well, then clearly they just don't really love you.
I think that rather than helping people foster healthy relationships, all this myth has done is damage people and stunt relationships that might have otherwise turned out to be something beautiful.
In romantic relationships, open, respectful communication is one of the most important aspects to foster. If you cannot communicate when you are getting to know each other, you sure as hell are not going to be able to do it when the going gets rough. Why, oh why do we buy into the idea that in a good relationship there should not be the need to say what we mean and what we need? In the words of Carly Rae Jepsen, "This is crazy." Why do we seem to think that someone doing something incredibly sweet or thoughtful or romantic is tainted if we had to tell them it was what we wanted?
If what you really want is a weekly date night, then say, "What I really want is a weekly date night." Don't say you want a french horn because you'd like to take lessons at some point and hope the other person knows that what you really mean is you'd like standing reservations for the two of you at the local French restaurant. Seriously.
And I'm not just talking about romantic relationships either. The same applies to friendships and family relationships. Yes, when you've known each other a long time, you will know each others "triggers," that the person who just made a sexist comment made your friend's blood boil or that Aunt So-and-So needs to be distracted if she starts talking to your sister about why she hasn't settled down and started a family. But there are things we need from our friends and family that may be different from the things they need from us. It doesn't mean someone loves us less if we have to tell them that we just need them to listen without offering advice or we really need a night to watch funny movies and hang out without really talking. If we tell them what we need and they show up and deliver, guess what? That is love.
I know this has turned into a bit of a rant, but I was thinking this morning about yet another Christmas around the corner, after which I will have to listen to this woman complain about what I'm sure is going to be another totally awesome gift, and having to see this man be disappointed yet again that he didn't make her happy and knowing they will not have an honest conversation about it. And I got really irritated.
Love is not some mind-reading, all-knowing, bag of magic tricks. Love is a dialogue. You can't say one thing and hope the other person hears something different. You can't not say anything and hope the other person figures out what you need from your silence. Speak the heck up. Say, "I need" or "I want" or "Please." That is what will tell you if someone really loves you. If you say what you want or need and they come through for you, think of how wonderful that is. If you don't say what you want or need or you say something totally different from what you want or need.... and they don't do what you really want or need, whose fault is that?