Sitting in a coffee shop writing a few weeks ago, I glanced up to see a man lightly brush his companion’s shoulder as they sat side by side on stools facing out the window upon the street. A quick and small gesture. She glanced up, met his eyes, and a smile passed between them. Delighted recognition. Noticing their brief reverie felt like trespassing. And as quickly as the touch came, the moment passed and they went about their respective computer work. Even as they went back to their own tasks, a little thread of contented connection lingered between them. It was a sweet scene to witness — not saccharine nor an obnoxious public display of affection.
Love is in the little things as much or more than the big things — whether we’re talking romance or friendship or family.
Small acknowledgements communicate large volumes. A brush of the shoulder. A hug. (Here I acknowledge that I’m not historically big on hugs; I have a big awkward personal space bubble. I’m trying to work on this as I age.) A quick text. A comment on Facebook. A phone call. Pausing to meet the eyes of someone who needs our attention.
Small actions communicate big relational truths. I see you. I am with you. You’re not alone. You matter. You are important to me. I like you.
I forget how important the words “I like you”are, whether you say them bluntly and directly or not. I go that route — often awkwardly, but I’m awkward in general, so I just own it and work with it as my shtick. Or if that’s not your gig and words aren’t your thing: invite people to do things with you. Acknowledge them in an intentional way.
I use the words “I like you” intentionally. Love, for me, implies commitment. Like suggests welcome and enjoyment. Love sometimes involves obligation and that dreaded “should” word. Like connotes delight. To be liked feels like being affirmed.
Put in a different context, around our house, when either J or I notice the other one’s crabbiness, we’re most likely to ask, “Do you like me?” I know J loves me. He knows I love him. We choose to care. We commit to that. Really what I want to know is whether he still finds me delightful. And he gets nervous about whether I still think he’s awesome sauce even while I’m irritated with him.
I’m not knocking love by these statements. I’m just saying we have a need for people to be committed to us AND to enjoy who we are.
People need to belong. Paradoxically, I find that I feel most connected when I’m less concerned with people liking me and more concerned with welcoming others. When I’m attuned to others instead of absorbed in my all-consuming neediness, my hunger for connection and acceptance is more easily sated.
What if we spent 2016 trying to be a little less concerned with ourselves and a little more concerned with liking and loving others? What if we were more intentional in the small things in 2016?
In the middle of our routines and in our hectic schedules, how might we choose more small moments of connection, recognition and “I like you?”
Putting the cellphone away when we’re with friends or family? Watching our screens a little less while we interact with each other a little more? Or, maybe, getting more creative in our use of our screens to interact with each other in the same room instead of isolate from each other? Sending that text or Facebook message to the friend you’ve been thinking about? Reaching out to the neighbor who just moved in next door? Choosing to acknowledge, lean into and possibly embrace the awkwardness in that one relationship, rather than hiding and running away from the person all together? Encouraging the specific good you see in others? Maybe especially that good thing or trait in the person who usually makes you totally crazy irritated bananas? Patiently (and attentively) listening even when your kid, parent or grandparent tells you that one story for the 95th time?