When we first fall in love with someone, we are generous. Generous with our attention, our money, our time, and our vulnerability. We give it all up to a new face as soon as we feel that rush of dopamine in our brain. From sex to conflict, the word generosity shows up often on Medium. I have an inkling as to why the word generosity shows up so often: We give everything until one day, we begin to pull back and thee people we love the most notice.
Generosity can be taxing. Giving without any reciprocation can feel like a vacuum sucking all of the energy out of us and the only person that decides when and how to give is us. The only person responsible for knowing when the giving is too much is us. The world is tricky because everyone always wants more and is willing to take whatever you have to give. Ultimately, no one knows the trouble you are going to because generosity is relative and no one knows when to stop asking until you begin to stop giving. Boundaries are learned somewhere along the way, but that is for another post.
Let me tell you a story. When I was thirteen, I fell in love with the man in a black jacket, sitting, playing chess on my path home from school. I walked home and each day we met eyes. Each time, I smiled, bit my lip, and looked down at the ground so as not to hold our gaze too long. He would say, “Hey beautiful.”
We did this for a few weeks until one day he walked me home. I fell in love with the words he said to me. I fell in love with the way he paid attention to every detail about me. He wanted to show me aspects of love and passion and generosity that I had yet to know. His name was Tony, and he was one of the most generous men that I have ever met in my life. He wasn’t wealthy or successful nor was a path in life paved easily for him to walk. Despite all of the challenges he faced, he made me feel like the only person in the world when we spent time together.
One day, Tony must have felt that he had my attention. I began to see him less, his phone calls shortened, and his presence became playfully unpredictable until slowly he began to fade out of my life. I allowed him to drift away without saying a word. Many years later, he would write me letters of love and apology. Tony began expressing his emotions and gave me dimensions of what he felt for me that I never would have known. I began to understand why he drifted away, his generosity, in the beginning, was more than he could sustain, and without any discussion, he took it away. Tony came to the conclusion that I was not worthy of anything less than what he brought in our initial encounter. His glass was not full and I had no clue until many years later. Sometimes our glasses our empty and we pour until we can’t pour anymore.
I knew early on in my life that some parts of love begin to drift away without reason. As I now build a tremendous relationship with my current partner, Mr. Brooks, I wonder about that quote from Simone Weil, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” Once we change our attention or divert it away from the love we were once so attentive to, do we begin to lose the love we intended to build? Is attention the key to all relationships?
When we fall in love, we are the MOST generous. I can think back to the beginning of my relationship with Mr. Brooks. I spent hours and hours with him, made amazing dinners, didn’t mind washing every dish, sacrificed sleep, said all the nicest things even on my worst days. “Being extra,” is the millennial term for when we give more than we can fathom. We give our energy and vulnerability almost recklessly. We open our hearts and we close our eyes. We courageously lean into this love with the hopes that love is reciprocated. But what happens as the relationship extends past the honeymoon phase into something more serious?
Actions are repeated, at least the ones that work in the beginning. As repetition builds, so do our expectations. We face relationship plateaus from time-to-time and the immeasurable generosity we have in the beginning can feel nearly impossible to maintain.
Then we hear the words, “Why don’t you do the things you did before?”
Those words crash into our eardrums and pain us the moment they are spoken. These words pain us because we know somewhere along the way our generosity down-shifted into first gear. But when did we stop giving 100% and started removing generosity in our relationship? Did we?
We as humans are generous so long as we can fathom. Think about it, the more generous we are, the better orgasms we tend to have, the better conversations we manage to hold, and our date nights become more memorable with those we love. When we really want to show up, we are so freakin’ good at it. But the moment, we start to think we’ve got it in the bag we stop being generous and down-shift into the selfish creatures we inherently are. Our insecurities shrink us. Other times our generosity shrinks as we load more onto our life plate, as Tony did many years ago. We turn inward. This is usually no fault of our own, our ancestors would suggest we are simply prioritizing our own survival. Some of those generous acts like sacrificing sleep cannot continue without diminishing returns to our physical/mental health. We stop being generous when we begin to think our own tank is empty.
Finding a balance between self-love and generosity is key. Like Tony, we all know that our path and our loved one’s path will not be smoothly paved nor will discussions be easy when our tank feels empty. Life can be difficult and we cannot fill another person’s cup if our own cup has no water to share. Without a generous mind frame, we risk entering a victim/escapist mindset. On the surface, we look self-involved, narcissistic, and cold-hearted. On the inside, we are begging for attention and connections. Putting generosity into our love requires us to first put generosity into our own hearts.
What I believe is the fastest way to generosity is finding moments to appreciate the beautiful parts of love that have become repetitious each day. Begin to notice the subtle things you appreciated so much in the beginning and started to take for granted as repetition continued. Examine your attention to the love around you. Are you giving rare and pure attention to the people you love most?