For anyone who owns a cat, or has been around a cat owner, the odds are you have experienced – first hand or vicariously – an unsavory gift such as a half-eaten mouse or dead bird left on your doorstep (if not your pillow!). Mildly disturbing, yet heartwarming because it is in fact a sign of love and affection.
Other pets, from hamsters to dogs to horses, also tend to develop affection for us if we feed them or rub their favorite spots regularly enough. Amidst a flurry of exceptions and varying shades of grey, we can see a semi linear relationship between feeding animals and how much they like us.
We tend not to be as understanding with our human counterparts (I don’t mean if they gifted us with dead animals; that would just be creepy and quite possibly justify a restraining order).
Everyone has a different life experience, a different lens through which they see the world. Within that, the capacity to love is expressed in a myriad of ways.
Some people get clingy, others write poems or songs, and others yet continue to act as if nothing had changed.
The truth of the matter is, there is no absolute right way to love someone.
On the receiving end, given our perception of the world, we of course have expectations and preferences.
One of the hardest things about love is finding that balance between accepting the love someone can give us and standing up for the love we deserve.
Parents, friends, lovers – we tend to have different criteria for each, varying standards we apply.
In high school I remember crying over a friend who didn’t show up when they had promised to help set up a party (long story). It took me an extended amount of time to realize that I had perhaps never told them how important it was to me, and that they had shown me how much they cared in many other ways.
One of my first boyfriends was jealous at what I thought was the drop of a pin, a character trait I found frustrating on the best of days. It was only after meeting a few people who valued a touch of jealousy as a sign of love that I understood it was a way to show affection, if a bit clumsy (and still absolutely not my cup of tea).
This is not to say that not showing up when you say you will is ok, or that jealousy is a positive emotion; but within reasonable limits these are things that could be put in context and at least not taken badly.
Parents tend to do what they think is best for their children, and even if it sometimes gets lost in translation, a big part of growing up is accepting that mothers and fathers are imperfect adults who may have gotten things wrong but fundamentally love their children. In some cases, that means showing up for recitals and sports competitions; in other cases, it might mean missing those events due to work because music classes and athletic hobbies all have a price tag.
Like so many things, the answer lies in balance. You need to love or at least accept yourself first, and then try to understand the people you love so you can value their way of showing how much they care.
Within that, if anyone falls short, you can walk the tightrope between taking it in stride and calling them out – kindly, if at all possible – so they have a chance to rectify their behavior.
Nobody is perfect, but with a bit of luck we can all learn to appreciate family and find people who complete us. Friends and lovers who are complementary flavors of imperfect to ours and make our hearts sing.
In the meantime, don’t forget to feed your cat.