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On Giving and Regiving

May 7, 2013

When I compliment Shelley, sometimes, truth be told, what I really want is for her to receive this little gift. When she doesn’t, I feel frustrated. “To let myself realize how much you actually love me is a little scary!” she says. Exactly. So allowing oneself to open enough to receive what is offered can actually be an act of generosity. To both people. 

Perhaps instead of being called giving and receiving, we should be calling it giving and regiving, because when we allow ourselves to receive what’s given, we’re taking hold of it and re-giving it to ourselves, and to the giver as well.

And I find I can be stingy in this way. Like last year while in Florence, for example. It was our anniversary, and Shelley offered to buy me a leather jacket, something I’ve wanted all my life. And what better place than Florence, known for its leather goods?  Well, countless hours and shops along the Ponte Vecchio Bridge later, I found myself haggling with the owners over this jacket and that, not quite sure we were getting a good enough deal. I was being stingy with her gift to me! It was a frustrating experience for both of us, and we came home empty handed.

The truth is, it’s far easier for me to give than to receive.

When someone acknowledges me, for example, first it knocks up against my assertively critical self that is certain I don’t deserve it, and strives to dismiss, rebut, and “yeah, but” the words. Then, should I let the acknowledgement really land, it tends to elicit a tear from me, one of sad relief: like a pellet of dew that forms from the warmth of the words hitting my icy litany of self-critiques and demands. The result is a good feeling – You mean I’m actually good enough? — that at the same time knocks me off balance and discombobulates me.

I have a couple I’ve been seeing of late who often hurt and trigger anger in each other. The woman complains that her fiancé is given to fits of rage towards her that freak her out and make her want to call off the wedding. And his complaint? “No matter what I do for her, or give her, it’s never good enough!” So I tried a little experiment. I asked each of them to acknowledge the other for anything positive they see. She took to this immediately, and dove into a deep and gushing iteration of all the sweet and charming characteristics she likes about her partner. When I asked him to do the same, he did, but on the receiving end, she suddenly looked like a dear in headlights. She took on a frozen smile and had stopped breathing, which is a sure way to suppress feeling and dull experience. When I asked her what she felt, she reported feeling numb and overwhelmed. And of course this is part of their problem. In reality, if she could take in what her partner gave, it would be good for her and him as well, as it would help him feel that what he’s giving her is good enough.

Many of my couples are hungry for what’s right there on the plate in front of them. Some of the men starve because they won’t remove the mask at home that they have to wear at work. Many women starve because they want their food cooked their way: Insisting their man articulate his feelings just as they do, and feeling deprived when they don’t. But he’s expressing his feelings by his actions and other non-verbal ways. So he needs to learn how to better speak her way, and she needs to learn how to better listen to his way.

It may sound boastful, and I suppose it is, but after almost 13 years, Shelley and I have got this good thing going where we give and receive each other in ways that fill us up, and in turn shoots out from us towards those whose lives we touch. Starting with Romeo, when he allows us to scratch and stroke him as he purrs away – a perfect circle of love. Likewise when we receive back the love and appreciation we send out to family and friends. And what better meaning-making is there than this? I mean for being alive? It’s really all that any of us really wants anyway, right? To be connected to a giving/receiving continuum, within a couple, a family, a circle of friends. It’s what gives our lives purpose and reaffirms our commonality.

“It’s really an existential issue,” Shelley said to me the other night. “After we’re gone, it’ll be like we were never here. The only thing that gets left behind is the love we’ve given away.”

So just for right now, this is the meaning we choose to ascribe to our lives, each in our own way. Shelley transmitting her fresh, pure vibrations from a young soul, me with my deeper and older vibes – this is what we give to our world. And it’s enough. Sometimes, as you who read me know, I get bummed that this will all end someday, maybe even today. Yes that’s sad. But only as sad as these moments of connection make me glad. And if that’s not cause for celebration, I don’t know what is.


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