How Do We Measure Love? Let us Count Seven Ways
So many of us feel we must get all mushy-gushy on Valentine’s Day as we face stores crammed with everything red and heart shaped. For some of us boomers, Valentine’s Day and the romantic love it purports, all seems forced and saved up for one day that’s manufactured and capitalized on by the many candy firms, florists and card companies. Yet, we follow the same ritual year after year for fear that if we don’t, we may hurt the feelings of our nearest and dearest. So, we gift them something sweet and romantic, take them out for a special meal or drinks and come up with loving thoughts, maybe penned in our own clever verse.
Our millennial children seem to have a better handle on ways to express their love, caring and affection beyond the giving of stuff. They favor experiences—a glamping vacation, tickets to a rock concert or home-cooked meal from one of their favorite sites or blogs. They also seem so much more adept at displaying affection publicly and more authentically. No need to hide behind sophomoric phrases and one-liners in cards or dole out gifts for one day to proclaim their love.
In fact, Valentine's Day has long received mixed reviews from singles and according to a new study by dating app Plenty of Fish, singles are officially over it. The Pressures of Valentine's Day & Dating study reveals that 43% of singles consider Valentine's Day to be the most pressure-filled holiday, with 1 in 5 wishing the holiday was canceled altogether.
On that note, we’ve learned with age that there are many ways and many days to express more than just romantic love. Part of the problem is that there are so few words in the English language to voice the various kinds of love in our lives. Here are seven ways we have found love beyond the realm of passionate love.
Health. This is a form of self-love and it’s at the top of our gratitude meter. We love (are grateful for) knowing that we’re healthy or in moderately good health. After we crossed the threshold of 65 and as we inch toward 70 and now beyond, we know more of our loved ones are ill and even dying or have passed away. We spend more time in doctors’ offices and time chatting about this or that ache or pain and all the pills we now consume. We read more on webmd.com and other health sites to learn about this symptom and what it might mean or which medical procedure it might require. In the meantime, we try to stay healthier by eating better—trying this plant-diet or low-carb recipe and trying to rationalize our love (craving) for dark chocolate and red wine, which might be beneficial, according to some food gurus. We also try to dial down the sugar and up the number of times a day we brush and floss as many of us find our biggest problems are with our teeth. Ouch!
Money. We have learned its importance and many of us might say we love money. However, this is not love. It’s security. We’ve learned that it’s not necessary to have bundles and the perks of the 1 percent such as private jets, multiple homes and ability to buy anything desired. The reason is clear; stuff won’t make us happy. However, we can use money to show love (as in caring.) This means having enough and a little extra to pay our health bills and maintain our shelter, help sock away funds for our grandkids’ colleges and maybe sleepaway camps, enjoy an occasional trip and favorite meal out and donate to our favorite causes to help others. It’s also okay to engage in an occasional indulgence as we know that we can’t take it with us. For Barbara that means more painting classes and a few retreats with new teachers to finetune her watercolor skills in bucolic settings. For Margaret it means an occasional trip with her three siblings since they have lived in different cities and plans to go with her daughter to Europe where one of her sons is teaching music. Live now and balance it with saving for that rainy day.
Work. We still enjoy our work and love (enjoy) certain assignments. Many of our friends are retired or plan to do so soon or at least cut back on their hours. Great, we say and toast their new adventures. Work challenges our brains. We also love (cherish) working together, even after 30+ years. We hope there are many more blog posts, articles and books to come. But we also know that we can work in different ways at this stage, age and beyond. Barbara volunteers at her college and thrives in the female relationships she forges. Margaret teaches reading to disadvantaged children in her new neighborhood and has also worked in a soup kitchen on holidays. Work doesn’t define us, but it enhances who we are, and we love it for this reason.
Shelter and Stuff. We love (feel safe and secure) in our homes. They may not resemble castles—far from it. In fact, Margaret downsized from a large three-bedroom condo to a one-bedroom rental to test the New York landscape. And Barbara resides in a charming 1797 home in a small village. We both have made our homes distinctly ours with favorite possessions we won’t forsake such as Margaret’s photos, artwork and first edition books and Barbara’s family piano, antique quilts and weathervanes, Oaxacan Mexican clay “dolls” and her own framed artworks. Part of the love (appreciation) of our homes is that we can thrive in our surroundings. Margaret marvels at how much more she loves her new tiny digs that reflect her personality and feels so much cozier than her large condo in St. Louis. Barbara loves (savors) tinkering in her garden, which has blossomed under her care and become a laboratory of what will survive in her climate and with the animals who lived there first.
Relationships. We love (adore and feel protective of) our children and (appreciate) our family and friends. We realize that it’s important at this stage of life to let those we love--but not in a romantic way--know how much we care, even saying out loud “I love you” since life is so precious and short. Moreover, these relationships keep us engaged and mentally and physically healthy as we hear more proof about how unhealthy it is to be isolated and lonely as we age. We try to nurture our most important friendships by staying in touch through in-person visits, emails, calls and texts, though we know a connection by face or voice is far more important. At the same time, we’re open to new friendships that add in some way to our lives and where we feel it’s very reciprocal. But we first like to test the waters and slowly develop a bond; that way it’s more likely to last.
Brains. We love (appreciate) learning. We know we have brains and hope to keep them in good shape by exercising them through our work; by reading, going to movies, shows and concerts; going on outings such as visiting museums to see the upcoming costume exhibition at the Met or taking or an architectural boat tour around New York City led by an architect; doing crossword puzzles; forming connections with people, and engaging in stimulating conversations where we share our opinions and debate about politics and world events. Cognitive decline is a great fear for any of us as we age.
Fun. We love our fun, or call it joy. Marie Kondo said we should only surround ourselves with possessions that spark joy, and this extends to our friendships and daily living as well. Nothing is as fun and healthy as something that makes us laugh out loud. Laughter has kept us afloat as we’ve moved us through challenging assignments and some of the vicissitudes of life. Both of us have enjoyed watching on Netflix the latest version of “Anne with an E” based on the Anne of Green Gables book, where love relationships are all about, including between young Anne and Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, a brother and sister who take her in. When telling friends of Barbara’s about the fun we had researching and interviewing owners of family businesses for our first book, we giggled hysterically as we remembered our adventures. To interview one multigenerational farm family in Missouri, we stayed in a nearby convent and the nuns asked us kindly if we were sisters. We interpreted that as being siblings, and quickly shot back, “oh, no, we’re not related,” but they meant sisters of a similar religious order. We still laugh about that conversation and so many others.
Before Valentine’s Day this year, we advocate not limiting yourself to thinking of love for just one day and for one romantic person or just your children and parents. Cherish those relationships, of course, but expand your horizons and feel love for close friends, even strangers and the things that matter in your daily life. You’ll feel much richer. We certainly do.