I heard myself saying, “Cindy, it really doesn’t matter what your intentions are. In the end, what counts is what you do. Without verbalizing and sharing what’s inside you, your partner won’t realize what you’re feeling, or that he matters. As a result, he will only see himself as unloved and uncared for. To avoid that, you’ve got to say what’s on your mind and in your heart.”
“I know”, she responded. “Even when I was on the phone, I wanted to tell him how hurt I was and what I needed him to do to satisfy my feelings of loneliness and hurt. But I couldn’t put it in words. Tell me, Dr. Ed, why is it so difficult to let someone know how much you care, how much you feel and how much you fear?”
I started to answer psychologically, but wound up telling her my story.
Years ago, I had my own radio talk show. I worked at the office from 6:00 a.m. until 6:30 p.m., would race to the radio station, arriving before 7:00 to go on the air at 7:10, for three hours of call-in questions. My wife and I passed each other like ships in the night. She was busily engaged in caring for our home, tending to two little children and teaching special education full-time, so her plate was as full as mine.
I had just written my first book and, because of my radio and tv presence, it became a best-seller in Texas and in the Houston area. I was asked by Foley’s department store to give a luncheon lecture in their downtown store. I agreed and we sold 600 books that afternoon. They then arranged repeat performances at their stores in Austin and San Antonio. On Wednesday morning, the day prior to leaving for Austin, I woke, took a shower and said to my wife, “I’m out of shampoo. I’ll have to get some.” The next morning, I showered at 3:00 a.m. in order to make the 3½ hour drive to Austin in time to appear on a radio talk show and a morning tv program before lecturing at the store. I walked into the shower and there was a bottle of my favorite shampoo. Perhaps because my emotions were already on the surface, I was so moved tears came to my eyes. I knew how busy my wife was, yet she had made the time and possessed the inclination to buy it for me. I was filled with love and appreciation. But it was 3:30 a.m. and I wasn’t about to wake her, so I hurriedly dressed, got into the car and drove to Austin. (Note: Those were the days before cell phones.) On the way, I thought, “tonight when I call, I’ll tell her how much her thoughtfulness meant to me.” The day went well and I called her late that night, after driving to San Antonio. We talked about my day, her day and the kids. I hung up and thought, “I forgot to tell her about the shampoo.” The next morning, I called again, told her about my schedule and when I anticipated arriving back in Houston. Once again, I forgot to share my feelings. That afternoon I returned to Houston, but was so excited to see her and busy relating the past two days’ events that I totally forgot about the shampoo. Several days later, it came to mind again, but it seemed anti-climactic to say anything, so I let it go.
Over the years, I’ve recounted this story in numerous speeches, because it conveys a very meaningful message. You see, I rarely forget things. I work hard not to. Therefore, my not telling my wife about my feelings was not something I forgot. The truth is, I am no different than Cindy, most of my patients and probably many of you. The reason is, it’s difficult to open your heart, let your feelings out and be emotionally vulnerable. It would have been easy to gently wake my wife Thursday morning and whisper in her ear, “I love you. Thanks for the shampoo.” But to say, “I can’t begin to tell you how much I felt emotionally when I saw the shampoo. I might have done the same for you, but I would have had a band playing to ensure you knew how much effort and thought went into my actions. You just left it there. It filled me with so many feelings of love that for just a moment, I truly accepted the notion that I really mattered. You see, inside, I live with my own demons, my own feelings of insufficiency and doubt that I’m lovable or worthwhile. All of which causes me to protect myself emotionally. However, being totally open to love, if only for a bit, totally lowered my guard. It was a wonderful feeling. But, putting it into words seemed an impossible task, because the chance of her saying. “Oh, it was nothing, I was at the grocery store, saw it and picked it up for you”, was the most frightening possibility I could conceive of. It would have taken away all the exultation I experienced and confirmed my doubts about self. I would have felt emotionally exposed and naked regarding how much I care, how much I need love, and how dependent I really am.
I suspect it’s the same for everyone, in varying degrees. That’s why people have less difficulty saying, “I love you” and giving gifts on anniversaries and Valentine’s Day, when society deems it appropriate. Similarly, it’s easier to express love on your honeymoon, on a date, to a friend or your children. But, to risk the possibility of not having your feelings reciprocated by an adult you truly love is difficult, no, it’s frightening.
If you can relate to this story, I’d have you recognize one additional truth. Despite the fact that, early in life, you probably learned that to love somebody who doesn’t return that love is a sign of weakness,
let me state that it’s essential you also learn it’s alright to love someone, whether they love you in return or not. You shouldn’t be embarrassed by loving. It creates a wonderful feeling inside and, if it isn’t returned, it needn’t take away that feeling. So, recognize that you are worthy of love, you have the right to love others and to express, share and show it. However, understand that if someone can’t return it after you’ve genuinely given yourself and explained what you need, you can always leave. But, until you’re capable of being vulnerable and running toward, instead of away from, your fears of rejection or hurt, you can’t go anywhere. You can’t leave any relationship, or avoid any involvement because you’ll only repeat your problem with someone else. The rules are: Run toward your fears. Love openly because it feels good to give love and to be loved. Take the risk of expressing your feelings. Do it all because, somewhere deep inside, despite any messages to the contrary that you may have been exposed to in your youth, each and every one of you are truly worthy of being loved just because you’re you.