This is what one of my friends asked me this week via text. The list she’s referring to is the one I threw together for my “How You Can Help While I’m In The Hospital” post. It’s a list of things that make me feel loved, seen, cared for, or amused. Coffee. Mixed CDs. Sunflowers. Hilarious 2 a.m. emails. That kind of thing.
I laughed when I read her text. Because she was serious. And because sometimes it really is just that easy to make someone feel loved.
It’s actually my current pet project…a speech I keep giving to anyone who dares to ask me for advice on anything. Because at the end of the day, 99% of the things people ask for advice on are relationship problems. And I’m becoming more and more convinced that we could solve 90% of them if we realized three truths.
Three Relationship Truths, Sherlock Holmes Style
1. There are specific, little things that make each one of us feel loved. Or if love is too strong a word for you, think of the things that bring that instant smile to your face. One morning I opened my refrigerator to find a big jar of iced coffee sitting front and center with a yellow post it stuck on the front that said “THE Kate Moss.” Instant smile. It was from a friend and this particular delivery method told me in one second that he knew me, had thought about me, and had taken the time to do something nice to make my day brighter. Perfect. (Yes, I realize that all my examples of feeling cared for are disproportionately skewed towards coffee consumption. Sometimes we’re not as deep as we wish we were.)
2. When we recognize those things and let the people in our lives know what they are, we give them amazingly powerful tools to show us they love us. When I was in the hospital, I told people what makes me feel loved. This didn’t change whether or not they love me. It changed whether or not they felt equipped to express their affection. Loving others can be hard. It’s hard to predict how someone will interpret a specific gesture. By taking some of the guess work out of it, I eliminated some of the natural fear and indecision that goes with communicating our feelings and which often leaves us stalled out on the “thinking about doing something nice” stage and never reaching the “actually reaching out and connecting” stage.
3. When a relationship is woven together by consistent, small acts of love, two great things happen. First, we feel more secure in relationships and can let down walls that might not otherwise come down. This allows us to engage more deeply with others and to grow! Second, big relational conflicts are less likely to end relationships because they’re taken in the context of a much larger, more solid connection. One fight doesn’t become the one symbolic image we see when we think of the other person. We have more reason to fight back our pride and work through things.
Of course, this entire strategy is based on a key factor: having a list of what makes people feel loved. How do you get one?
If you’re me, you just ask. I know, it’s not an elegant approach, but it’s an effective one. And I’m pretty comfortable telling people that I love them and want to know how to love them better.
But sometimes you feel like you can’t ask.
Maybe the person is too important to you and asking would be scary (Strangely, sometimes this is how I feel with family members. That if I actually knew their lists I would feel bad when I didn’t do those things all the time. And once again, relationships are messy!).
Or sometimes you can’t ask because it would be inappropriate or misinterpreted in your relationship. In my case (going in to the hospital), it felt very appropriate to give my broad support structure my list. I have tons of guy friends who were amazingly supportive because they did stuff off the list. But if I emailed one of them specifically and asked him for a list and then started doing stuff for him… that would obviously be a whole different scenario.
But just because you can’t ask, doesn’t mean you can’t have the list! If you sat down and thought about a specific person you know, I bet you can think of five things that would be on their list. People are pretty transparent about things that bring them joy if you’re paying attention. Watch, wait, ask questions, listen, experiment…. it’s not nearly as hard as you’d think. (Or I’m inordinately good at stalking people and excessively nosey, which makes it particularly easy for me. In which case, let me know who you want a list on and I’ll extract one from them for you. Just kidding. Mostly.)
And finally, Sherlock Holmes endorses me theory, as evidenced by this quote (which is definitely NOT taken out of context):
It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important. — Arthur Conan Doyle
So…who could you try my theory out on? I’m starting with Rock women that I’m close to. For the most part, I don’t have to ask them for their lists. I already know them. I just have to remember to use the lists I have. Which is harder than you’d think.
But being proactive has really blessed some of these relationships already! Possibly because just the act of being intentional about loving these women has changed how I view them. My own perspective is a more forgiving one. My heart hurts more for the things that they struggle with and my brain thinks less about how they should be acting. My view of these relationships is more long-term. More about doing life together and mutual growth than showing up when that person is in crisis and wants help and then walking away. Friend instead of problem solver. Highly recommended.
Give it a shot!