Head & Heart Duo: Thirteen Ways to Show Love
Love is born from a specific moment, a specific act. You just had a baby. Is it instant love? For some, yes. And for others it takes time for the love to grow—when the baby smiles, starts chatting, even moving arms and legs.
Is love an emotion that just bubbles to the surface when you feel good around certain people? And does love stem from the head or the heart or both?
We know that when we feel love or loved, it lowers our blood pressure and certain feel-good chemicals are released in the brain. It’s akin to a runner’s high.
In an article titled, “What is the Meaning of Love?” writer Noah Elkrief looks at love as complete acceptance; a time when we allow someone to be exactly who they are. This isn’t the kind of love where your breath catches in your throat, your knees turn to jelly and your heart races. It’s more subdued.
“Love is completely unconditional: when we truly love someone, we can’t stop loving them regardless of what they do or say,” Elkrief writes. “True love doesn’t want anything in return because there is nothing it needs We just love for the sake of love.”
Another meaning of love comes from Eric Segal in his 1970 book, Love Story. To quote from it, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” But to extrapolate, we feel it’s learning how to say you’re sorry and mean it if you inadvertently hurt someone you love.
In general, we love our children, our parents, our pets, (some) work colleagues, perhaps a prominent figure, a significant other, certain foods, some destinations, items of jewelry or artworks, and most assuredly our friends and ourselves (hopefully). Some of us are fearful to show love. It makes us vulnerable; we might get hurt if it’s not returned, so we sabotage our ability to love or don’t since we’re unsure how to express it in words, verse or voice.
Some give love with an agenda; they expect something in return. They look for someone to fill them up and that deep dark hole in the guise of love. That’s an unrealistic expectation we have learned and doing so dooms that love from the start. Better to give generously with no expectations in return.
Love is also consistent in its course. It’s not a give and then a retreat, a give and retreat, or it shouldn’t be but with some it is. It’s not to be parceled out like remaining candy in a bag or free tickets to a favorite concert, although giving up your tickets to the last Tony Bennett concert to a close friend who has always wanted to go might be the highest form of pure (crazy) love, especially if you really wanted to go. There’s no payoff. You do it just because you want to out of love.
Others show love in simple, more affordable ways. They offer small touches: a table set with a fresh bouquet of flowers for no reason, for example. Or a gift of a fabulous pint of peppermint stick ice cream because the recipient loves it. A really lovely gesture of love also is to give the gift of your time (we’re all busy) to talk on the phone, dine, see a concert or a movie, rush to someone’s rescue who might be in trouble, pay someone a visit even if it’s out of the way or just to take a walk and get caught up together face-to-face without constantly looking at your watch or phone.
In fact, the highest form of love these days may be setting down your phone and keeping your fingers away from the computer keyboard when talking, no clickety-clack here and there!
How else do we show love? Many of us do so in the ways we hope to receive it, but this assumes your partner, kids, mentors, work colleagues, friends and family define love the same way you do. And if you give love, be honest with yourself. Do you expect the person to return the feeling or is doing it enough? You may be happier if it’s the latter.
Here’s our list of 13 ways to show the love:
- Cook for someone who is ill or doesn’t like to cook, has been under the gun to finish a big project or has caregiving or childcare challenges and no time to make a meal. They could use a break. Surprise them with lunch or dinner. Set a nice table and do all the cleanup. Margaret has done this many times for her son who lives only seven blocks away. Barbara is now bringing food to her older daughter with a newborn since she has little time to shop, cook and clean up and she’s also exhausted.
- Sit by the bedside of a sick friend and feed them chicken soup and great stories or read aloud to them. If you can’t sit with them, consider having the soup delivered. But being there can make so much difference. When Barbara’s late mother was bedridden at 100 years old, she would read to her or tell stories about the past. It would grab her mother’s attention. She’d smile and add her own take to every tale. At other times, Barbara would check out large print books from the library and deliver them to her mother. This became necessary as her mother’s eyesight worsened. And Barbara now likes to drop off some of her mother’s large-print books at one of her mother’s friend’s houses, who’s 97, a spring chicken by comparison. She also includes a fresh baked bread or cake.
- Walk someone’s dog if they’re sick or on a trip. If an indoor cat, feed and change the litter box. Margaret used to take care of her boyfriend’s dog when he went out of town. When her husband was terribly ill, a neighbor would come over every day and walk their dog while Margaret was at work.
- Call and offer to pick up something for a good friend if you’re going to the grocery or pharmacy. “I’m going to the market. Do you need any paper towels or laundry detergent?” Few people in New York City have cars and everything can be a schlep. Usually, this favor is reciprocated. When Margaret’s friend in her building moved to L.A., she gave Margaret massive supplies of paper goods and laundry detergent, so she doesn’t have to go to the store to buy these products or ask someone else to get them for her. Barbara passed along adult diapers left over from her mother’s supply closet to a friend, whose mother needs them. The friend’s mother asked, “May we reimburse you for these?” “Absolutely not,” said Barbara, delighted someone could make use of them.
- Listen to those you love when they’re hurting and don’t interrupt or offer suggestions. Listening without judgment is a high form of pure love. We have fine-tuned our listening skills with our children by acknowledging their feelings and not jumping in with our commentary (most of the time). That, we have finally learned, isn’t helpful or loving.
- Don’t go back on a promise unless there’s a very valid reason. If you promise to take your mother to the hairdresser and she’s been looking forward to this for a week, don’t fink out. If your boss needs you at that time, then reschedule for the next day or offer to wash and set your mother’s hair as a selfless act of love. Margaret did this once for her late mother when she was diagnosed with an illness. Margaret couldn’t take her to the salon the day an appointment was scheduled, so she offered to help wash her hair at home.
- Send an impromptu card or message for no reason other than to say, “I’m thinking of you and miss you. Let’s catch up.” Margaret often does this with some of the friends she left behind in St. Louis. Barbara regularly sends “real” birthday cards in the mail rather than email or text greetings. She also will send a note to cheer up someone or a small gift such as home-baked cookies or pound cakes. And on occasion, we each send a donation to a charity both recipient and giver like.
- Give someone you love a back, shoulder or foot massage. Margaret and her sisters often do this for each other when they have a migraine or foot pain with one sister being particularly skilled.
- Send candy or flowers as a romantic or kind gesture. Margaret’s one sister sent her niece a bouquet of flowers when she got a new job. “Congrats!” Barbara bakes cookies for all the shopkeepers in her town before the Christmas holidays to say, “Thanks for all the care and good cheer this past year.”
- Knit, pearl, draw, paint, write, sculpt or make something special for a person you care about that they would really want to remember you by. Margaret’s son’s partner made a white ceramic vessel which she uses as a bud vase. She treasures it more than the glass Chihuly bowl her mother left her. Barbara has gifted her paintings as a special token of her affection.
- Go with a child, sibling, or friend to the doctor when they have a consultation about a serious condition and need you to ask questions, take notes or tape the conversation. Margaret did this for a friend whose husband was told he needed surgery. She went with his wife to talk to the surgeon to find out more about the procedure. Barbara flew into a distant city to help take care of a friend—cook, grocery shop, run errands—because she didn’t have anyone nearby. And when that same friend kept debating surgery, she talked through the pros and cons daily, even the day of the operation.
- Learn what questions to ask and not ask or share to show your love. Good ones are: what can I do to make you feel better? Would it help to talk about what’s going on in your life? Or, would you just like to get your mind off your troubles and go to a play, a movie or concert? You choose. If someone is hurting, don’t share: “I had something similar happen to me, I know how you’re feeling or you’re so lucky since it could have been or could be so much worse.”
- Respond in a timely fashion. It may seem inconsequential but how many times has someone not responded to an email for days or weeks, a text or phone call. When you really care about someone deeply, it’s kind and loving to get back to them in a timely way—maybe, not right away but within 24 or 48 hours.
The joy of showing love in either big or small doses is the journey itself, and any reward you reap is in the experience of knowing you have enriched the life of someone you care about in the moment more than you have rewarded yourself.