A Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthThe Power of ListeningDeath in Dunedin: A NovelJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationSabbath Keeping FastingDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelPersonality Type in CongregationsBeating Burnout in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeA Renewed SpiritualityFriendingDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Initiative in friendships: Different ways of initiating

Wednesday July 19 2017

Initiative in friendships: Different ways of initiating

Imagine that your friend has been studying part time for several years to get a particular academic degree. Graduation is coming up in a few months, and you want to do something to congratulate your friend for the hard work and strategic juggling that has resulted in this achievement.

Should you buy a gift? Send a card? Offer to take photos at the graduation ceremony? Invite your friend over for a meal? Offer to host a party? Offer to take your friend out to a favorite restaurant to celebrate? Invite your friend out for coffee and offer to be a sounding board for the next steps in his or her life?

What is the best way to initiate? Sometimes our ability to initiate is limited by our circumstances. If you are on a limited budget, you can’t buy a lavish present or invite your friend out to a glitzy restaurant. If you live in a tiny apartment, you can’t offer to host a party in your home. If you’ve listened to your friend talk endlessly about the future, and you’re so fed up with listening that you’ll scream if you do it one minute more, you probably shouldn’t invite your friend out for coffee and another listening session.

Joanne, a hospital human services manager in her forties, believes that observing her friends’ love languages has helped her show love in appropriate and effective ways. She is referring to the many books by Gary D. Chapman about the five love languages. (His first book was The Five Love Languages.) Chapman believes that most of us have favorite ways to give and receive love, and he calls them “love languages.” He identifies five of those languages: gifts, touch, undivided attention, words of affirmation and actions.

More than twenty years ago, my husband and I read an article by Chapman, describing the five love languages, several years before his first book came out. The article stimulated a lot of conversation between my husband and me, and among our married friends at the time. It was easy for me to see that undivided attention—being listened to deeply and carefully—is the primary way I feel loved. I’m also very fond of being touched physically. I enjoy giving and receiving gifts, I enjoy receiving compliments and words of praise, and I enjoy being served. But if I don’t feel I’m being listened to, I don’t feel loved, even if I get hugs, gifts, compliments or actions that serve me.

As we talked about these love languages, my husband realized he feels most loved when I do something with him, whether it’s an outing to an art gallery or working alongside him on a home repair. We don’t necessarily need to be talking for him to feel loved in that way, and I don’t really need to do anything other than be there with him. This doesn’t fit into one of Chapman’s five love languages, so we came to believe that companionship, at least in our marriage, is one more language of love.

My friend Joanne believes the love languages are just as relevant to friendship as to marriage. “So much miscommunication comes from not knowing a person’s love language,” she said. She watches her friends, trying to notice the way they give love to her and to others, and she tries to show love to them the same way. “I have a friend whose love language is service. I try to do things for her, help her with household tasks, even though it doesn’t come easily for me.”

I can look back on many friendships and realize that I probably erred by not paying attention to the other person’s love language. I mostly show love to friends by listening to them, because I value being listened to. I can remember someone from back in my thirties who was obviously trying to be my friend. She was always buying me little things, which seemed irrelevant and even a bit pushy to me. I wish I had understood the significance of love languages in friendship back then so that I could have received her kindness and care in the spirit in which it was given. Instead I found myself wishing she would listen to me.

It would have been good if I could have engaged in some reflection like this: Hmmm. She keeps giving me these annoying little gifts of no consequence. I wonder why such a pointless gesture is so captivating to her. Maybe she wishes people would think of her more often when she’s not around? Maybe I should give her a little gift every once in a while, just to show her that she’s in my thoughts.

Or perhaps another kind of initiative would have been appropriate. Hmmm. She seems to miss the point that I want to be paid attention to, but she must like me, because she keeps buying me stuff. Maybe we should have a conversation about this—define the relationship a little more. Taking initiative to ask some questions about patterns of giving and receiving love, and about her hopes for our relationship, would have been a gift to her. I regret that I was not able to give that gift.

(Next week: Vulnerability as initiative. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column. Illustration by Dave Baab.This post is excerpted from my book Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World.)

Previous posts in this series:

      Initiative in friendships   
      What Mary might have missed   
      Obstacles in taking initiative       
      Overcoming fear         

Here's article you might enjoy where I wrote about obstacles to listening, a relevant topic in friendship:
      Listening past the noise



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