Ok before you read any further, think way back to the TV and movies from your childhood. What did they teach us about love and relationships? I wish you could say “They taught me that relationships were good and kind. They showed me examples of friendship, respect, self-love, and reciprocity”. And who knows, maybe that is true for some reading this, but in my years of walking and talking alongside individuals and couples trying to figure this all out I don’t think they taught us those things at all, not even close. I think they taught us about selfishness, coercion, and manipulation. They taught us that it’s worth giving up our family for a man we just met (thank you Little Mermaid…. Titanic….. Pretty Woman). They taught us it’s that kissing an unconscious woman without consent is acceptable and an act of true love by one’s prince (thank you every Disney movie on the planet). Or even something as simple as…. If the shoe fits, you’re my gal. I won’t even get started with the gaslighting, manipulation, coercion and violence Belle endures at the hands of her captor (and future husband). We all KNOW that isn’t real life. We KNOW that isn’t what love is. But the subtle message gets in. Over and over the message is sent and it is received. Over and over it gets in. Girls… you will work hard to be small and pretty and quiet and sweet. You will be the “most beautiful girl in town…. And that makes you the best!!” (a particularly cringy lyric from Beauty and the Beast that even now in 2022 shows up on Spotify and I find myself maniacally coughing through so my young children don’t hear those particularly cutting words….. because That. Shit. Gets. In.). Girls, you will grow up, be attracted to big strong men and you will marry one of them and have that big, strong man’s babies. He may not show you kindness and tenderness, but he will show you big grand gestures that are demonstrative of his strength, muscles, masculinity and therefore love or at least his intentions to conquer you… and this is love. Boys…. You will grow up to be attracted to women and you will be so overcome with love and adoration for said women (infatuation is what is actually happening, but Disney would never admit to such a thing) for that you will be compelled to fight someone for her, break something or somehow show your masculine energy in a wild romantic gesture to overwhelm her and she will love you… forever. She will swoon, her family will swoon, and you won’t get arrested for assault because…. It was all in the name of love.
(You might be singing this in your head….. Gaston is an obvious culprit)
No one fights like Gaston Douses lights like Gaston In a wrestling match nobody bites like Gaston For there's no one as burly and brawny As you see I've got biceps to spare Not a bit of him's scraggly or scrawny That's right And every last inch of me's covered with hair…….
I have been working with couples, individuals and families for 20 years and do you know what I haven’t seen much of?? Grand gestures of love. Sure, I’ve seen a few here and there, but in the romantic, familial or friend relationships that are the stickiest, the ones that endure, the ones that are good and solid and tender are typically severely lacking in the grand gestures department. They lack the outpouring of love on social media, they lack the room filled with rose petals, the cars with a bows around them, the profound statement of undying love and devotion.
So what do they have? How does one know they are loved and adored if not sent roses every Tuesday for the rest of their life because that’s the day you met your beloved? It’s the consistency of showing up. Those relationships that are securely attached have the consistency of showing up over and over again, because That. Shit. Gets. In. The partner that you KNOW loves you because of the tea that is ready for you when you walk in the house on a chilly day. The moments you respond to your partner with a particularly edginess that has nothing to do with them but with the angst of the day and your partner pulls you close instead of defending themselves, that’s from all those other times you showed up. The friends night that you flake on because you just can’t muster the energy tonight and your love for one another remains as deep as ever, that’s a result of all the times you showed up. When your kid seems to be going haywire and they crawl into your arms silently because they know, and you know, that all they need is to be held for a moment, that knowing is from the consistency of showing up. When the gestures are a squeeze on the shoulder on the way to the bathroom, the sweet song you sing to your kids before bed, or the gentle wake up in the morning. That is the consistency of showing up.
Ben Rector says in in his song “I like you”
“There are way too many love songs And I think they've got it all wrong 'Cause life is not the mountain tops It's the walkin' in between And I like you walking next to me”
And I think that is it. I think that is simple and profound and I think that is IT. That is what we want way down in our bellies.