The Love Issue. Calling it that makes me think of the quip, “When talking about love, when aren’t there issues?” Love is an issue. Love has issues. Love is at issue.
Love is based in care. There’s the romantic, lovey-dovey love; but at its foundation, love is about respect, concern, and regard for ourselves and others. Our world. Our fellow citizens. Our communities. And, within the topics of love and care, I’ve been pondering the concepts of self-care and other-care. Self-care is fairly known. There is a large body of work out there regarding self-care and what it involves, with various definitions that don’t always agree with each other. We hear about it all the time on talk shows and in pop-psychology. It ranges from the idea that we can’t take care of others until we take care of ourselves, both literal and figurative hierarchies of needs (is internet connection as important as shelter?), fundamental hygiene and daily maintenance…both physical and psychological care and the mish-mash of everything in-between.
Then, there is this idea of other-care. There isn’t as much published about this concept, but I’m guessing it can be just as broad or narrow of a definition as what self-care includes. What I’m learning is that other-care is relational and has to do with how we let others take care of us. This is where I tend to stop in my tracks. As each of us has different personalities, so do we have different approaches to our relationships with others. Mine tends to be that of a caretaker. My focus is split between analyzing myself and my actions and how they affect others; helping people, facilitating communication, being a sounding board, offering advice or ice cream or a daytrip to escape the doldrums. But letting others take care of me? What is this notion? I’m a self-reliant, liberated woman and I do what I want! I drive a Jeep! I’m invincible! You can’t make me be cared for! See where this is going? Yeah. Nowhere great. Or, nowhere as great as what can be possible.
Walls contain space and people and property and belongings. Walls provide security, walls keep things out and in. Physically, they are lines of demarcation, not permeable. More abstractly, they are barriers to what we allow in—or out—of our lives. Not allowing others inside the walls means that we are safe with ourselves, but we can be pretty lonely and isolated, both physically and psychologically. Not pushing people out beyond our walls can be dangerous, depending on the conditions of the relationship. This time of year, when we do things like publish “The Love Issue,” when the weather is cold in Minnesota and darkness still ends late and starts early, it’s important to remember that self-care involves other-care. We are not meant to be the sole providers of our care; humans are social creatures and our care requires more than what I lovingly refer to as my “Committee of One.”
What I would do for my others is what my others would likely do for me. And how wonderful is that? Because we love each other—or at least like each other—there is an expectation of care, of such a back-and-forth of regard and assistance. And I love it.
But it must be done carefully. We don’t have control over how others would care for us, and not everyone knows what is best for us. And, there are some people with whom too intimate a psychological relationship can be inappropriate, depending on what role they play in our lives. Thankfully, we have control over allowing ourselves to be open to other-care on a case-by-case basis. That’s the in and the out of letting people into what’s contained and protected by our walls. As we let people in, our perspective expands and we can see ourselves through the eyes of someone we trust inside our walls.
There are some people I wouldn’t trust to pick a paint color for my loft, but I’ll share the most intimate thoughts, and they know some of the most important other-care for me is to simply say, “I understand.” To just nod. Or, some know when I need challenging, that I can get mired in how think about things, and then I emerge with a better plan. On a more recreational level, some friends know when I’ve made too many decisions in the day or the week or the month and I just need to go along for the ride, doing whatever, as long as I don’t have to think. And then there are the people who send me pastries, literally or as a joke in a text message, just to acknowledge that things are a little hairy at the moment. Other-care can be as mild or as bold as the moment or conditions require.
During these next months before springtime, I hope you take a look at your lives and see where you might expand your sense of what love means. If you’re seeing that your self-care could use a tune-up, consider what that might take and work toward making it happen. If you’re as unfamiliar with other-care as I was, evaluate your relationships and see where you can make some room for it, inside your walls. Be careful in your consideration. Whereas one person might be someone who can see that you might be stressed and could use a cup of coffee dropped by your desk, that person might not be the same one you’d trust with some of your mental well-being. Add other-care where it’s appropriate. The more trust you give a person, the more secure you feel with them, the more they can provide a very real role in a loving relationship, romantic or not. Your Committee of One can expand to be a Committee of Two when you want or need it. And that is a comforting thought.
I’m guessing that you’ll only be the better for it. Okay, since I’m challenging myself to do it, too, we’ll be only the better for it. We’ll be in this together, as long as I get to drive…because I’m invincible and my Jeep can drive through anything.
With you, with thanks, and with love,