Caitlin began to lean in to hug me and then paused. “Do you just want to talk about it?” she asked. I looked up at her with a sense of relief because all I truly needed was a conversation, not a hug. We were several weeks into a mission trip in urban Chicago and during that time Caitlin and I had grown very close. When others saw me upset, their first instinct always seemed to be to reach out and hug me, but Caitlin had begun to pick up on what truly helped me to feel loved and supported.
Thrown together—along with 75 other students—Caitlin and I got a crash course on what it means for love to be a service to others. You see, by getting to know me, Caitlin discovered that I feel most loved when I am verbally affirmed. So, when she realized I needed a friend, she opted to reach out to me in a way that resonated with me—words! Caitlin could have come by and given me a hug or bought me a little present, but that wouldn’t have meant as much to me. During those 6 weeks, I also began paying attention to how other people felt loved, and could then interact with them in ways that were truly meaningful to them.
This lesson learned could also be applied to my romantic relationship as well. My boyfriend, Matt needs touch to feel loved. A good hug is his solution for any bad day. I on the other hand, feel most empowered through words. But our differences don’t tear us a part, they challenge us to truly engage with one another and pay attention to what the other person needs. His selflessness shows when he talks through a problem with me, instead of trying to fix it (as he might like). And my love is better received with each hug I give him, instead of simply telling him how much I love him (as I might like). Since we each have different ways that we feel loved, communicating our needs has helped our relationship grow.
Being aware that not everyone feels loved in the same way I do, has helped me to love others with a heart of service and that has helped me grow immensely in all of my relationships.