By Teresa Swartz Roberts
Blog post 22. Copyright 2017
I grew up in a family that didn’t say I love you. Occasionally, I’d hear it when someone said goodbye. Hugging was the same way, reserved for special helloes and goodbyes. “Come here and hug my neck.” Sometimes “Give me some sugar.”
As a child, I demanded affection. I’d climb up in a lap, sometimes dragging a book or toy with me, often just staring into the face of someone I adored and saying, “I wuv you.” I wanted hugs, and I wanted to be carried until I was too big.
I was too big to be carried pretty early in life. I learned that people don’t always express love with physical affection. I remember a conversation with my mother after my stepfather had thrown a coffee cup against the wall and stormed out. I went to the dryer, got out the laundry, and started folding. Mother told me she appreciated that I was showing love when she needed it. I don’t remember whether I hugged her. I wasn’t saying goodbye.
I learned that God is love. My mother could recite the King James Bible version of the Love Chapter, first Corinthians chapter 13, and I was thrilled when Rev. Pauley recited it at my wedding. My Honey and I were so much in love that we could barely keep from touching. Now, 33 years later, I’m sitting in my reclining lift chair, and he’s sitting on the couch with his feet up. But I know he loves me; he loves me more deeply than I could have imagined back when we were newlyweds.
Frank and I have made a point to say and show that we love each other. We’ve tried to make sure that our son knows that we love him. We say it to him. He says it to us. And he has shown us patient love beyond what most young men in their 20s have to think about. The Boy was shocked when he came back from building bridges in Africa and found me not recovering well from a knee replacement. He told his dad that he wasn’t used to thinking of Mom as weak. He didn’t know what he was in for. Eventually, my son would think of himself as my caregiver, driving me to doctor appointments, holding up shirts and underwear to allow me to feel that I was still sorting the laundry, cleaning the house, helping me stand up. He showed his love every day.
Now that our son is grown and gone, I don’t want to sound too needy on the phone. I still say I love you to him, but I respect his right to build a life outside of mine. That brings up another point, actually. Love without respect can be manipulative.
Even love with respect can be manipulative. Remember when I said that my family didn’t say I love you? I heard some bad news from a family member the other day and said I love you because I felt it so strongly. The problem with that is that then the family member felt that I love you was the only appropriate response, awkward or not.
Expressions of love without respect can be sexual harassment. I have experienced that. Yeah, me too. Because of those experiences, which included being chased around an empty classroom by a math teacher, I decided to make a hard and fast rule about never hugging students. It’s a good rule–until a tutor you have known for three years tells you that her mother died, and you don’t give her a hug.
Looking back, though, that was after I had pretty much stopped hugging everybody. It hurt. When our pastor broke her foot and had to walk with a cane for a while, I warned her about hugging. I don’t know whether she experienced that pain of leaning forward, but I sure did. Nowadays, if I’m careful about weight distribution and especially if I have something to hold onto, I am not a bad hugger.
I am a bit of an introvert. I like people, but they wear me out. Parkinson’s depletes dopamine, which can lead to depression and the tendency to avoid social situations. It’s easier to say no than make an effort to be with people, even if you love them.
Now I spend time each day loving. I love God. I love my family. I love my friends. And I love myself. I should say so.