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The Power of Holding Hands (The Three Loves: Jenny’s Version Part 2)

2013 1203 holding hands rh Life has been BUSY, and as David steps it up with his comics, I also wanted to give him space to develop his voice.  But this blog is always percolating in the back of my mind.  I am still muddling my way through to find the voice I want to represent myself here.

I’ve concluded so far that while I tend to prefer to just dole out advice, or go super introspective in storytelling my favorite bits over the years, I’m gonna have to step up the vulnerability level to be impactful, but it’s still something I am wary of doing.  Especially because our blog doesn’t exactly have a readership yet, other than from some close friends who are not the intended audience!!!

Anyway, back to the topic at hand.  Some time ago, David made this comic about the three loves (agape, philia, eros), and how he approached our relationship in reverse order as most American couples today (who begin with eros, and hopefully end up at agape).  My injured but slightly processed response starts here (I had mistakenly hoped we could be like ‘most American couples today’).  And now, months later, I have continued to process this and have finally made a conclusion about this whole thing.  And I have to admit, I am actually surprised by my conclusion.  HE WAS RIGHT.  He did agape me so much from the beginning, and in many ways I think that may have saved our marriage.

The most powerful example I can think of is that of holding hands.  To get there, I need to explain a little background, so please bear with me.

Feeling Gypped (not as much PDA as I had hoped for)

Being the more “American” one in our relationship, I was always very self-conscious of how David carried himself around me when we were in public, or in smaller group settings.  Having grown up feeding on American media to an extreme degree (and concluding for years that what I saw was the real thing and all Korean counterparts to what I was seeing was just so messed up), I always noticed what was missing– the playful eye contact, small moments of physical affection displaying our connection, or even straight up being cuddly in public.  And I always felt a little bit gypped.  We were affectionate with each other, but in private.  The Korean way is more to save all that stuff for yourselves, and not display it for the world to see.

My Childhood (almost zero physical affection)

My immigrant family was typical enough.  Love was shown through sacrifice and provision and gifts, not through physical affection or words.  And if I had grown up in Korea, I would have learned to view my family expression in proper context and seen plenty of love for what it was.  (Not to imply there was no objective dysfunction, but what a difference the lens you view things makes!)

But I didn’t grow up being hugged and snuggled.  I realized at some point that all of us rarely touched each other except maybe during long car rides and that kind of context.

Enter: Marriage

This baggage brought into a new marriage where my groom actually had responsibilities outside of fulfilling my every desire and a very high stress level as it was, was a setup for huge disappointment on my part.  I would clamor for his attention when he was trying to work on a project at night.  Sometimes I would succeed in distracting him, sometimes not.  But from his point of view, I was more annoying than lovely when it came to my unending pit of emotional need.

But This He Did

Those first several years of marriage, there was often a lot of tension in the air by the time we went to bed.  Tension we couldn’t resolve in a satisfactory manner because the root issues were deeper than a conflict resolution session could accomplish.  But no matter what happened, no matter how much I pressed his buttons that day/ night, this is what he did:

Every night, as we’d climb into bed and lay down next to each other, he would take my hand and hold it tight.  We’d usually fall asleep this way.  I don’t remember too much other than wondering what was making him do this.  The holding hands TIGHTLY part was due to his being annoyed/ angry at me, not a passionate expression of eros love.  But my physical affection-starved self soaked it up.  I was never one of those wives who sent hubby to sleep on the couch, no matter how mad I may have been.  I couldn’t handle being alone in the night after twenty-some odd years of deep, deep loneliness in general.

I also remember feeling like these sleep-time hand-holding sessions were having a therapeutic affect on me.  And in hindsight I can definitely say YES THEY DID.  It took a few years, but this nightly ritual played an important part in filling the wells of my heart.  So did having young children and making physically affection a high value in our home (though it’s getting harder and harder as they get older…).

But, man~ what if David responded to his anger at me differently?  A more typical response would have been to get out of the house to cool off or get a break from me, or not prioritize going to bed at the same time and try to get work done after I go to bed.  He didn’t meet my needs/ expectations in marriage so I acted out in rejection, to which he responds negatively by seeking an out.  Isn’t that the way of things?

But he didn’t do that.  I responded ‘normally,’ but he responded with agape.   His holding my hand tightly was his way of declaring commitment to the marriage and our vows, regardless of how he FELT at any given moment, which over time, played a part in making me more secure and less emotionally needy in general, which has really freed us to enjoy eros at a whole new level not present in those early years.

So in hindsight, I guess I’m glad to not be ‘most American couples’ after all.

photo by J. McPherskesen cc

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