Games People Play: The Race To Love The Least

Do you let fear keep you from giving your heart?

Do you let fear keep you from loving the most?

In my recent post entitled Happy Old Year: Reflecting on 2012, I talked about how one of my successes last year was figuring out that maybe, just maybe I could actually start enjoying the notion of dating again.  As I have dipped toes in the water going out with a few people, including the very interesting Mr. Kip Pullup, I have been increasingly thinking about something my friend Jeannie and I talked about a lot some years back when I started dating Andy. She said that in every relationship, particularly every new relationship, there is a contest between participants.  The goal?  Be the person who loves the least in the relationship. She said that it occurs most obviously and frequently in relationships that are either romantic or on the way to being romantic, but that it happens in all types of relationships.

Think about that for a minute.  We all live in a world where we are bombarded with terrible news. If we aren’t hearing stories about fiscal cliffs, school shootings, or casualties of war on the evening news, we are being faced with illness or financial distress in our families.  Most everyone you talk to will agree that things are too negative too much of the time, and what the world needs is more positivity and love. And yet, when dealing with our own relationships, we consistently try to be the person who loves the *least*?  Surely that can’t be right, can it?

I personally believe Jeannie was spot on with her assessment. We DO try to love the least, and we do it for a very valid reason – to protect our hearts.  The compulsion to love the least comes from a place of insecurity and guardedness.  I don’t even think it’s a necessarily a bad idea in some cases, given that it’s often a good idea to try and get to know something about someone’s character before laying all your cards on the table.  In the case that Jeannie and I talked the most about, it was utterly stupid.  We were discussing it in the context of the beginning of my dating relationship with Andy – a man who I had been close friends with for 2 years, a man with good character, and someone who had always proven to have my back.  I have a gooey, cream-filled center that is capable of enormous depths of love when you can break through my hard candy shell on the outside. So naturally, when I finally started dating Andy, I was determined not to let myself get hurt so I started trying to be the one who loved the least.

Loving Andy the least made me behave differently than I had before we started dating – which could easily have ruined the relationship if I had been involved with a less patient and considerate person.  The effort to protect my heart made me a little bit nuts, which was a problem because Andy did not fall for a girl who was nuts, he fell for a girl who he thought was intelligent, beautiful, sassy, loving, and that put others first.

What does loving the least look like?  It can take a number of forms, including game playing and not saying how you feel. One of the interesting thing is that it’s not uncommon for the actions associated with loving the least in a relationship to look just like the actions of loving the most in a relationship, just with different internal feelings and motivations. Here are some examples:

  • Loving the least is not texting or calling someone when you would like to hear from them because you don’t want them to know you like them enough to be thinking a lot about them when they aren’t around.
  • Loving the most is not texting or calling someone when you would like to hear from them because they are spending the weekend with their kids and you know he doesn’t get much time with them.
  • Loving the least is insisting that you spend New Year’s Eve together because it’s one of the most romantic nights of the year and you’re entitled to be with your sweetie.
  • Loving the most is offering to stay home from the party because you’ve only known someone a couple of weeks and don’t want to cause problems with his kids that will also be at the party.
  • Loving the least is blurting out exactly how you feel about someone because you are desperately hoping they feel the same way as you and will proclaim it so, which will make you feel better.
  • Loving the most is telling someone exactly how you feel because you just want them to know, if even if it’s a risk because they don’t feel that way just yet.
  • Loving the least is not telling someone how you really feel about them because you are terrified the feelings aren’t returned and will never be returned, and you don’t want to face up to it.
  • Loving the most is not telling someone how you really feel about them because they are recovering from past hurts and aren’t ready to hear it yet.

In general, even though the actual actions look the same, the acts associated with loving the least focus more on your own heart and best interests, while the acts of loving the most focus more on your friend, partner, or family member’s best interests.   In my life, there are people I act like I love the least and people I act like I love the most. In general, the more comfortable I am with someone, the easier it is for me to love the most.

  • I’ve known my best friend Heidi since I was 8 years old – we have 30 years of friendship and unconditional love behind us.  It’s easy as pie for me to love her the most.
  • It took me about 6 months after we started dating for me to tilt towards loving Andy the most instead of the least. This was largely because I knew I wanted to marry him less than 2 weeks after we started dating and it scared the shit out of me. Once we got more settled in our relationship it became easier to love the most.  There was a short period a few months before we got engaged when he started behaving differently because he realized he was really serious about spending the rest of his life with me. This change in behavior made me feel a little insecure again so I started sometimes acting like I loved the least.  But once we got engaged I never felt like acting from that place again.
  • I just met my new friend Shelby 3 months ago, but she is easy to love the most because she is so much like me and also because there is not as much risk involved in loving a new friend the most.
  • I have a hard time loving my older brother Tim the most because while he is a good man, he and I are not exactly two peas in a pod.  I’ve never quite felt like he approved of me so I have never felt as secure in the love of my brother as I have in the love of my best friend or Andy or my mom.
  • I sometimes have a hard time loving my mom the most because she is going to be 70 years old soon, and I am starting to think about her mortality.  I am want her to be healthy and happy and here on this earth to be my mom for as long as I live. Because I know that can’t happen I sometimes pull back and love the least.  I did the same thing with my dad for years, because after he had his second heart attack and subsequent bypass surgery in 1997, I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop – for 13 years, I was convinced that every phone call I got from my mother at odd hours was the phone call telling me that Dad was gone. I’m fortunate that I was able to get over that a little in the last few years of his life. I’m trying hard not to make the same mistake with my mom.
  • Most interestingly, with Kip, I find myself simultaneously acting like I love the least and the most.  I just met him a few weeks ago so there’s no telling what will happen, but at the same time we clicked so well on several levels that it’s easier to try loving him the most out of the gate than it is with other people I’ve gone out with. Heck, one of the reasons it’s easier to try and love him the most is because I’ve talked to him a little about this theory of loving the least and he seems to get it.

I have no idea what life holds in store for me – heck, none of us do. But I do know that since fostering relationships has become one of the most important objectives in my life, I’m going to work hard at trying to inspect my actions and the thinking with a goal of loving the MOST.

As to loving the least? My goal is to come in dead last in that race.

11 responses to “Games People Play: The Race To Love The Least

  1. Wow. How did I know so much or so little “back then”?
    I reserve the right to wish you only the best, fresh love that you can know now that you have known true love…whether it’s the least OR the most in your romantic relationship.
    AND I am going to start following your blog.


  2. Jeannie, I think this was around the time you started seeing your hubby, so clearly this type of thing was top of mind. Enough that I have remembered it for years.


  3. GoMC and I have often discussed that in ANY relationship, at any given time, one person (and it swings from one to the other) is always more into the relationship than the other, and the trick is to know that and be OK with those shifts in intensity…


  4. This is something I have been thinking about a lot. I mean a LOT. I’m going through a divorce, and I think I ruined a great relationship because I was guarding my heart – not going to do that again.


    • rani, so sorry to hear you are going through a divorce. I hope that the next time you find yourself wanting to guard your heart too much you can power through it and love the most.


  5. This was pretty timely for me. I’ve been very guarded for a long time. It’s been 20 years since I really opened up. With the old boyfriend from 24 years ago getting in touch and talking for awhile now. . . well, this is timely.


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