That’s Not Love

That's Not Love (2)I woke with a familiar, 40-year-old heartache.  I pulled on my robe while heading up to make coffee.  With each step, the strong voice in my head chanted, “That’s not love.”

In the dream, it was my birthday.  He carefully, and in great deal, explained the gifts he’d purchased.  He discussed the lengths he’d gone to in order to find the perfect items.  He talked of how he’d spent so much energy tracking down these ideal presents.  “Aren’t they beautiful?  Do you like how I put this together?  I found the perfect gifts, didn’t I?”  I reached out to touch the smooth fabric and he said, “Oh, no.  These aren’t for you.”  I woke with a racing heart and a need to vomit.

The 12 year old deep down inside wanted to scream, “Hey!  That’s not right.  What about me?”

Fifty-something me knows the futility of trying to explain to one who lacks empathy.   It’s equally tiresome to either point out that something hurts feelings, or to pretend that feelings aren’t hurt.  I could say, “Hey, that hurts my feelings,” only to be told that it’s not all about me; that he has every right to buy what he wants for whomever he wants, say whatever he likes or do as he pleases.

And the 12 year old with tears welling up in her eyes thinks, “Next year, I’ll be nicer.  Next year, he’ll do nice things for me.  I’ll be different.  I’ll be better.”

And she’ll try to change herself – again – to get the love she thought she was promised.


Tenderness, kindness and thoughtfulness are love’s currencies.

Love is not hurting another to make yourself feel better.  Love isn’t taking the one you love for granted.

Love is trusting another with your heart, gingerly handing it to them, hoping they will cradle it in their warm hands.  They demonstrate their love by carrying your heart around as if it was their own, just as you can hardly wait to do for them.  Love is not hearing them say, “I love you,” as they kick your heart to the curb.

That’s not love when he lays your heart down on the bar while he leans over to stare at the female bartender bending over to grab beer bottles from the cooler.  It’s not love when he leaves your heart in the backseat of his car on a hot day while he sneaks into a jewelry store to buy earrings for another.  That’s not love when she leaves your heart in the bedroom, only to find it again when you agree to meet her under the sheets.

It’s not love when her words feel like lashings on the fragile casing of your barely beating heart.


As I sip my second, third, and now, fourth cups of coffee, the symbolism of the dream materializes.  Perhaps I understand because I was sidetracked by Twitter during the second cup, and stumbled upon a tweet that spoke to me.  Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading emails that I’m afraid to open.  Or it could be that I’ve been dealing with this for so long that it’s finally making sense, in a sick sort of way.

The dream has nothing to do with not getting expected presents.  It’s about not getting promised love.

That 12 year old knew, in some instinctive, primal, intuitive way that what she was experiencing was NOT love.  Just as the woman in the dream knew she was not experiencing love.  The 12 year old lacked the voice to explain, and she certainly didn’t have an audience.  The dream woman has a voice, but she’s too beaten down and tired to bother trying to explain any more.  There’s no point.

The dream showed her that she’s right.

That’s not love.

And because she still doubts herself, the Universe will continue to send signs – whether in dreams, or books, or tweets.  The signs aren’t telling her there is no love.  The signs are saying, “That?  That way you were treated?  That way you still allow yourself to be treated?

That’s.  Not.  Love.”

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  1. Thank you for this post. That little girl was me too! And that is exactly what I used to feel when I would see normal healthy families. Like a longing that I really couldn’t describe because I didn’t know what it was, just that what I had wasn’t right.

  2. Kitty,

    And wondering why I wasn’t being loved in the same way that other little girl was being loved, and coming to the “logical” conclusion that I must not be as good as that other little girl.

    Thanks for writing. Give your young little self a hug from me. ;)

  3. This is such a beautiful depiction of love–what it is and should be. I loved the way you described what love is. Thank you for this! The right love will come and love is present with us and around us in many forms. I try to focus on that when the loneliness gets heavy.

    Thank you for this post–it is sad and beautiful and hopeful.

    Hugs xoxo

  4. Lynn,

    I like the way you put that. It’s very comforting to think that love is “present with us and around us in many forms.”

    As always, thanks for being here. :)

  5. Hi Jesse,

    this is totally out of context, but I just stumbled upon the quote below, and thought that you might want to give this to Mark should he ever ask you where he failed as a father (like when Easter and Christmas fall on the same day):

    These questions are important for parents to ask themselves, because regardless of whether other physical needs of children may differ, their need for love and support from parents does not. Each of our children has an equal need for us to show them we are interested in supporting their strengths and encouraging their activities, and our ability to do this has little if anything to do with how much like us they are. As one of Goldenthal’s clients eventually realized, “going to a museum with his son did not require that he be especially interested in art, only that he be especially interested in his son.”

  6. Jul,

    The three of us had a good laugh about talking to Mark – something like the Easter/Christmas thing!

    I read the article, and promptly sent Will a text to let him know how proud I am of him. Those 17 year olds need to hear it, too, maybe even more than the younger ones.

    That quote about the dad and the museum gave me chills.

    Thank you so much for sending the link. I know many will benefit from that article.

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