My cat has always been affectionate.
But she has only recently become wise.
For most of her 17 years, she would only allow affection on her terms. If she was picked up, she would squirm out while uttering an irritated yowl. If she was caressed, she would walk away, only to return later to demand attention when she was ready.
When she was the affection instigator, she would stay still for hours, soaking up the strokes and vibrating the air with her purrs.
She loved to be loved. But only on her terms.
At some point in her advancing years, she must have calculated that by accepting affection only on her terms, she was limiting the amount of attention she would receive. Perhaps she learned this from watching the dogs, who were always willing to accept care, even if it interrupted their important activities.
She still approaches and asks for affection when she wants it. But now she accepts it when it is offered. Instead of jumping out of encircling embraces, she snuggles in and closes her eyes in feline ecstasy. Instead of running away from an approaching hand, she now meets it halfway, stroking herself along her head.
She learned to accept love. Even if is wasn’t on her terms.
And I learned from watching her.
I suppose you could say that my ex was fluent in my love languages; he knew how to express affection and love to me in a way that I understood.
When Brock and I first started dating, I was much like my cat in her younger days. I wanted affection on my terms: at a time when I wanted it and in a method I preferred. When it was offered at a different time or in a different format, I would turn away.
Around the same time, I read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. It opened my eyes in two ways, one which Chapman intended. And another that he did not.
First, the book helped me to realize how Brock expressed affection. Some things that I found silly or irritating (when they interrupted my flow) were actually his way of expressing love. Just recognizing that changed my response to those actions. I approached rather than turn away.
The book advocates sharing your love language with your partner and then helping him or her learn how to speak your language.
This is where I disagree.
I am not going to travel to Italy and expect them to learn English.
Nor am I going to enter into a relationship and demand that he learn to speak my love language.
That’s accepting love only on my terms.
And, as my cat learned, that’s limiting.
My cat still teaches us how she likes to be petted, guiding hands to her favorites spots. But she still enjoys the attention even when we miss the mark.
You can teach your partner how you like to receive love. But accept his or her gifts even when they are in a different form.
Instead of expecting your partner to convert to your language, try learning to recognize and accept theirs. You may be surprised at how much love is there when you are receptive instead of critical.
And, as the cat has learned, purrs are better than yowls any day.