Once, when I was about nine, I asked Mom if she and Daddy loved each other. I’ll never forget her response. She retorted matter-of-factly, “If we didn’t love each other, how would you all be here? We didn’t just pluck you guys off the side of the road and bring you home with us!” And that was the beginning and end to “the birds and the bees” talk with my mom. I wasn’t expecting to get “the talk.” I just wanted to know if they loved each other. At least I managed to glean something from that exchange. Apparently, my parents did love each other—exactly six times during their marriage.
Recently, I’ve started thinking about love and relationships again. I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship with my mother, especially now that my father has passed. Of course, I now know that my parents really did love each other quite passionately, even though they never displayed their affections in front of us. They had been through so much together—the death of their firstborn, losing their native country in a horrific war, starting their life over in a strange, new world in which they didn’t know the language. Sure, they had their differences and fought often but they were married for almost 45 years; and, they did have six children together. I haven’t had a very close relationship with my mother in the past, but I’ve been working on changing that. I’ve also been reflecting on my own marriage and the relationship I have with my two children. I wondered how much my parents’ traditional Asian, pragmatic approach to love and affection shaped me and how it has affected my relationships now as an adult.
Growing up, my siblings and I never saw our parents hold hands, hug, or kiss each other. And once we reached preadolescent age, displays of affection towards us became rare as well. We weren’t a hugging family. “Love” wasn’t a word that was heard around the house or spoken to one another, it was just…understood. Our parents communicated their love to us by providing a warm home, clothing and food. And, we expressed our love to them by helping with the dishes, caring for our younger siblings and trying our best to stay out of trouble.
As I got older, I had many opportunities to spend time with friends and sometimes their families. I noticed a contrast in their family dynamics compared with my own. I was surprised at the ease and comfort with which they expressed their affections for one another. And I could tell that in their homes, they not only felt safe and secure, they also felt loved. Many of my friends still have very close relationships with their parents, especially the girls with their mothers. Some feel like they can share everything with their mother and talk to them every day. Now as adults, many of these friends have tender, loving relationships with their spouses and close, nurturing relationships with their children. So, maybe we are products of our environment…maybe our relationship with our parents when we’re younger play a big part in shaping the relationships we have as adults. It makes sense that the way parents interact with their children and with each other around their children would teach children how to feel loved and to reciprocate love. I think that children who grow up feeling loved are generally more comfortable communicating their affection to others.
My parents often hid their emotions and encouraged us to do the same. If they saw me crying, they’d command me to stop immediately and go wash my face. “Crying is so unattractive,” they’d say. “You don’t want people to see you crying!” And so I learned to bury my emotions. In hindsight, I can see how this made dating a bit challenging. I always wondered why the guys I really liked never seemed to give me the time of day—jerks. Well…I guess to be fair, they usually didn’t have a clue that I was even remotely into them. And the guys that did show interest—poor guys—they often saw me running the other way. It’s no wonder they eventually lost interest. Luckily for me, there was someone capable of loving me enough—he was patient enough, willing enough, and arrogant enough to think he could break through the walls I built around myself. Not only did he break through, he managed to find his way deep into my heart, stir up all my emotions (every single one of them) and show me that love could evolve. I married him, of course.
I’m aware that my approach to love and affection has changed over time. In addition to improving my relationship with my mother, I’ve made a conscious effort to regularly communicate my affections to my husband and each of my sons. At first it seemed strange and awkward, but eventually it became easier, and now it feels natural. I am comfortable reaching for my husband’s hand and telling him that I love him. In general, I find the words “I love you” easier to speak now, and showering my children with kisses and hugs has become more natural too. In fact, hugs are given freely and often in our household. When our children see us embrace, they run to us for a group hug. It’s a different environment than the one I grew up in for sure. I know my parents loved me, but I’ve learned that knowing love and feeling loved are two very different things. Obviously, I want my husband and my children to know that I love them. And, of course, I want my mother to know it too. But, more importantly, I want to make sure they feel loved by me as well.
Interestingly, evolution begins with a certain word spelled backwards. Change happens. Things get turned around. And, suddenly you see things in a different perspective. Such is the evolution of love.
Huyen loves black coffee, red wine, twisty roads, everything about autumn, the cool spot on the pillow, British television, German cars, European dance music and Hobbits. Her favorite time of the day is night. Huyen is an indy graphic designer. She has a bachelor’s degree in English. Her favorite color is red. She stands 4’10”-ish (on the outside—but, much taller on the inside). Huyen was born in South Vietnam and feels blessed with an amazing husband and two incredible boys. Happy and at times conflicted, she wants peace and craves for adventure. Huyen lives in Florence, Alabama.