Define Your Terms

happinessgandhiI’m a big believer in “defining your terms”, especially when it comes to loving relationships, and by that, I don’t necessarily mean romantic ones, but rather any relationship that demands your vulnerability. If you love someone, you’re vulnerable; there’s a chance you could be hurt, either because we all have these bodies with unknown expiration dates, or because people grow and change, and not always in a way that merges. This happens romantically, to be sure, but it also happens in familial situations, and with close friends. Sometimes we have ideas in our heads about how things should be, or how people should be, or how a relationship should look and feel. That “should” can really bite us in the a$$, but sometimes we get hurt simply because we’re using the same words to describe different things.

My idea of what it means when I say, “I love you” to someone may not resemble your meaning. Does that seem crazy? Does it seem obvious to you what it means when you say those words? To some people it means, “I love you when you do what I want you to do.” Or, “I love you when you want what I think you should want.” It can be conditional, or about control and manipulation. For others, it’s a statement of possession, “I love you and now I own you.” It’s not so simple, and to complicate things further, sometimes what we think we mean, and what we actually mean are not in sync. Looking at yourself honestly, examining your patterns, and being truthful about what’s happening within you are essential if you want to be close to other people.

Your experiences and frame of reference and ideas about things shape the way you move through the world, the way you interact with people, and the way you define your terms. If the love you’ve known or have come to understand involves unflinching acceptance of those closest to you, you may assume your loved ones will respond in kind, and they may, or they may not. It depends on their own history and their own outlook. So many misunderstandings are the result of poor communication, assumptions and projections.

Someone does something, or does not do something, and we assume this must mean what it would if we did or did not do this same thing, and that’s just not a fair assumption. You’ll never know where someone’s coming from unless you ask them with ears that are willing to hear, and a heart that’s willing to understand and accept what’s real for them (that doesn’t mean you have to agree). Sometimes people ask questions but they only want to hear one answer, and it doesn’t really matter what the other person says or does; with enough desire, obsession and reworking, the answer will be twisted and expanded or pared down or shoved under a rug, so the “right answer” will emerge. We kid ourselves, in other words. This can happen when we fall in love, or when we have a friendship we can’t bear to lose, or when a family member is moving in a direction that scares us. Sometimes we just don’t want to accept the truth of a thing, so we intentionally reject any definition that challenges our own.

Knowing yourself is the key to knowing other people, because in order to know yourself, you have to integrate all parts of your being–the stuff that’s pretty, that you’d gladly share in a status update, and the stuff that isn’t so pretty, that you’d be embarrassed to share. If you can accept yourself without being rigid or unforgiving, you’ll be able to do the same for others and you won’t be scared to explain what you mean when you say, “I love you,” or to show it. Fear is responsible for so much that goes unsaid and undone, but what’s to fear? If you speak honestly and from your heart, you either will, or will not be embraced. What’s the point of living a lie? Knowing yourself is liberating to you, and to those closest to you. Defining your terms honestly, without trying to shove your ideas down someone’s throat is a beautiful gift.

I get so many emails from people who don’t bother to talk because they “already know what the other person will say,” or from people who are in despair because their partner isn’t loving them the way they want to be loved. If only their partner would change, they say, all would be well, but we have no control over what other people will do, or say, or want and we never know what life will put in our path. The only true power we have is to express ourselves calmly and with compassion, to face reality as it is, and to choose the way we respond to what we’ve been given. If you’ve been deeply hurt, betrayed, neglected or abused, you really want to examine what you expect from the world, and the other people in it. Define your terms for those you want to bring close to your heart. We’re part of a mystery, but you want to take the mystery out of it when it comes to your ability to say what you mean, and to share your deepest desires. The rest of it will unfold.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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