When I write about relationships and suggest that we all try to get along, I get twitchy when I think about the people I know who are in abusive relationships. I think about my friends who have spouses who are cheating on them. I ruminate over the children who have parents that neglect them. I remember the trauma and pain inflicted not just by fists, but by cruel words and unrepentance in the face of grave offenses.
The gift of love is the gift of the power and the capacity to love, and, therefore, to give love with full effect is also to receive it. So, love can only be kept by being given away, and it can only be given perfectly when it is also received. Thomas Merton, No Man is An Island, p.4
To all my dear friends who have given love that was ultimately found to be returned to sender unreceived I say this: it’s ok, this is not all your fault. If you have loved another to the best of your ability (realizing that none of us are perfect when it comes to love) and they have refused to receive your love, then at least you tried.
How do you know if your love is refused and returned to sender? It may take time, but eventually we discover this through a series of observations. We discover that when the person hurts us, they are not penitent. If they make a mistake, they don’t bother to make an amends. Although they may have once fawned over us, we realize that they have not taken the time to get to know us. They may lie, cheat and steal without remorse. They make no effort to grow, learn and change. They insist that we meet their needs without noticing our needs. We notice the contrast between respectful relationships and this relationship. Over and over and over again.
Our faith requires us to treat all people with dignity and respect. We don’t get to employ passive-aggressive techniques or go to war through acts of relational terrorism. But here’s what we can do: we can tell ourselves the truth about this relationship and make decisions accordingly. Merton says love can only be given perfectly when it is also received. Some relationships need to be gently released, re-ordered, and re-arranged.
My guess is that if you have unrequited relationships like I’ve described above, it is possible that you have neglected other relationships where people would have reciprocated and received your love. Please do not neglect the people in your life who love and respect you in a vain attempt to chase the one person who keeps returning your love notes to sender. Maybe you don’t know quite yet what to do with this frustrated one-way relationship, but something you can definitely do is seek out and spend time with people who teach you that they want to spend time with you. Make them your holiday priority and see what happens.