The Answer is in the Prepositions

Dear Stephie,

I like to believe that reciprocity is a key ingredient in all interpersonal relationships. I also like to believe that love is selfless and does not ask for anything in return. The giving is the receiving. So, with intention to “be love,” I ask for your thoughts on arriving closer to the balance between the two ideas?

Seeking Balance

Dear Seeking Balance,

Let me start by saying, I love your question so darn much that I could reach across the screen and hug your guts out for asking it. Because, like you, I too believe reciprocity is one of the key ingredients to interpersonal relationships and, like you, I would love to believe that love is selfless.

Unfortunately, the very notion of selflessness ignores the fact that we are, above all else, human. And, as humans, we have needs and desires.

When I was 11, my father stopped coming home at night. He’d call, and say, “I’ll be home in 15 minutes.” My mother would start warming dinner. We’d make our plates and sit cross legged on the living room floor in front of the TV, the evening sitcoms distracting us from the fact that Dad’s dinner was getting cold. I remember thinking, maybe he got lost, maybe his car broke down, maybe he’s had an accident, maybe, maybe, maybe…

Each morning, I’d wake to find his plate in the fridge, wrapped in cellophane, untouched.

She did this nightly for nearly 2 full years.

An act of love. But also, an act of hope.

And he’d give her reasons to hope. After a 3-day bender he’d come home bearing gifts and empty promises of ‘never again’ and she’d sigh a breath of relief only to go back to wrapping that damned plate.

I’ve never asked her why she kept doing it. But I imagine there was a part of her whispering “if you just keep loving long enough and hard enough, maybe, just maybe, these kinks will iron themselves out.”

She’s grown accustomed to living on bread crumbs of affection until one day, she realized that loving might look like leaving.

Though he spent less and less time at home, my mother couldn’t bring herself to kick him out of his own house. Instead, we picked up and left. It was like she was saying, “OK, you want your freedom, I’ll give it to you.”

That’s how much she loved him. But that’s also how much she loved herself.

I am not certain of many things, but I do know this:

Love isn’t something we are, it’s something we do.
And it looks differently depending on who we are, and who we are doing it with and for.

I suspect the answer to how you might arrive closer to the balance between reciprocity and loving, is hidden in those two prepositions.

Are you doing love with someone? In which case, reciprocity is a luxury you cannot do without. ‘With’ requires connection. It does not always require equal parts of giving and receiving, but if you are doing 80% percent of the love more than 50% of the time, it might be time to look at the balance you so seek. 

Are you doing love for someone? In which case, it is absolutely imperative that you seek other ways to tend to your own well. What fills you up? What is your life source? Because you can only give so much of yourself without receiving before your heart grows dehydrated.

So, Seeking Balance, I guess, what I’m trying to say is this, love isn’t a place you arrive at, it’s an action, it’s something you practice, and practice is nothing if not messy.

You cannot find balance without losing it first. 


Heart in my hand in yours,

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