I decided long ago--back in high school, actually--that one of my purposes in life, insofar as I could be said to have any, was to remind people how wonderful they are.
I hope I can be forgiven for focussing on women. I have what I feel are good reasons for this.
Men have absolutely no idea what to do with that kind of information. The saddest thing is that there are more than a few men out there with no self-esteem and no confidence and if you try to nurture either, you're likely to be told off in no uncertain terms. Then there are men out there who know how wonderful they are. Most of them, contrary to whatever their inflated egos may tell them...are anything but.
And then there are the men who really are wonderful. I count a couple of them among my friends, and both of them have a kind of quiet, easygoing confidence that needs no nurturing, or at least none from me. That said, I love them. You're not supposed to say that about your male friends, for fear of free-floating gay cooties or something, and I say: whatever. If you're my friend, I love you. Simple like that.
But women, now. Even women with conventional beauty and brains to burn are all too often paralyzed by self-doubt and intimations of worthlessness. Think how the average woman feels, and then imagine the woman who is overweight, hirsute, riddled with acne, or otherwise falls short on some mythical physical beauty standard that is sadly the only way too many men know how to gauge a woman.
I think it's fair to say I can count on the fingers of one elbow the number of women I have met in my life who are fully at home and at ease within their brains, their souls, and especially their bodies. This is, as far as I'm concerned, a tragedy and a travesty both.
(travesty: a fake, absurd, or distorted representation of something. An often misused word, that.)
Now, going around uncovering angels is all well and good. But it's rather fraught. First of all, there is a high likelihood my feelings themselves will be misconstrued. Sometimes even by me. It has been hard to come to terms with my own loving nature, believe it or not. I used to fall head over heels at something as innocuous as a fleeting smile, and God knows I used to chafe against societal restrictions on that love's expression. Most of that has abated today: being married to a woman as multifaceted and fantastic as Eva is tends to have that effect. But I still count a number of women among my close friends, and yes, I love them too. (Love: that condition where another's happiness is essential to your own, in Heinlein's definition.) Not for the first or last time will I lament we have one word in this bloody language for such a nuanced and complicated set of emotions.
If I'm not the one misconstruing my feelings, she might, That's because (he said, humbly) there don't seem to be too many people out there like me. There are men who will flirt, and I'm not above a little healthy flirtation now and again provided everyone involved knows the boundaries of it--but the kind of things I'm apt to say to the people I care about are a little deeper than casual flirting, and I think sometimes I unwittingly scare some people. Dear god, please don't let him feel THAT way about me.
Rest assured, folks, for the most part I don't. (F-f-for the m-most p-p-art?!) Well, yeah, for all the times I think I'm from some alien planet, I am a human male and I do have occasional crushes, occasional rogue and roguish thoughts. You'll never know about those, though, because I keep them locked in my cranium...the only person who gets to hear about those is Eva, and that, folks, is one working definition of a happy marriage. We have about thirty others that apply to us.
But to this day I often must restrain myself from giving hugs, for example...not everyone wants a hug, no matter how much they need one. I just hate to see people in pain, and you know? there's an awful lot of pain being carried around by an awful lot of people, many, perhaps most of them women who deserve none of it.
Never mind a hug, take the next best thing, a word-hug. I specialize in these things. I think I'm able to get across, most often, that I care immensely about someone without scaring them too much, but then you run into a bigger brick wall, which is that so many people have trouble with compliments.
One of my friends--and I haven't actually seen this one in, get this, thirty years, and it doesn't matter--said last night that "it's funny...you always hear 'you have to learn to handle criticism' but never 'you have to learn to take a compliment'". I started thinking about other things you 'take'. Punches, for instance. It almost seems as if compliments are punches instead of verbal caresses. The reaction is kind of similar, most often: a bit of a flinch and a 'what'd you say that for?!' Because I FELT like it, that's why!
There are some women who, I think, discount my compliments and words of encouragement because I seem to offer them so freely: he can't really mean that, I heard him say something similar to somebody else once. If they do that, I wish they wouldn't. My love is free in that I give it without expectation of anything in return, but I hope it's worth something anyway. And love is one of those things that defies the laws of mathematics: the only way to get it is to give it away.
But all too often it just seems like I'm not getting through. Another dear friend suggested that until you change your perception of yourself, nobody else can do it for you. That brought me up short...in fact, it's not too much to say it provoked a mini-existential crisis. Because she is, of course, right: only you can change you. I can give you all the words of help and hope I know, and if you're not willing to believe any of them, there's not a whole hell of a lot else I can do. So what am I doing then? Is it pointless?
I choose to think not. I choose to think that even if my words go unrecognized and unheeded, I must keep sending them. Partly because it feels so good, partly because I'm not one to keep silent when I feel something needs to be said, and partly because love really isn't love unless it's expressed.
It's true that love can be expressed in comfortable silences.....after thirteen years of marriage, Eva and I can go hours without a word between us; I call this the warm shoulder. But that's Eva, and she is, for obvious reasons, the first of my loves. She needs no reminder, though she gets many daily. Other loves need to be reminded how loveable I find them, so they'll know. Loveable means you can be loved. There's nothing else required, if love is what you're looking for...