Relationships & Dirty Paper Towels

Ink on Dirty Paper Towel

My son-in-law was visiting and spent some time in the studio practicing his Kanji lettering. He wrote on rice paper with Sumi ink and utilized one of my Japanese brushes. While we was working he used a paper towel to dab and clean, so I asked him if I could keep that paper towel. I loved the color gradations and the shapes, so here it is. I have never written on a paper towel before, it was both fun and a challenge.

And isn’t that same thing true for relationships? This quote reminded me that the best we can expect of people is for them to give us their kind of love, which as these words remind us, may not be the same as our kind of love. Relationships are both fun and challenging, a real give and take knowing that what we need may get lost in the mix. It reminds me of the book The Five Love Languages, where Gary Chapman describes how we all give and receive love in different ways. (If you have not read this book, buy it now!) Which means we may have relationships with people who give differently than we receive which means we build around filling in the gap between what we need and what was delivered, between what they give and how we are expected to receive it.

When we love people – friends, family, partners, colleagues – we invest and give of ourselves. We get to know them as they get to know us. We see where they have a need and they hopefully pay attention and try to give us what we need. The key to not wanting to give up on people is to realize that they can only give what they have the capacity to give. Which means we may need more or different than they have AND we need to educate them on how to help us or get over it. Relationships fail when we do not communicate our needs and expectations in a way such that the other person is able to understand. And just because they understand it does not mean they have the bandwidth or kind of love our kind of love.

And thats’s where the fun and challenging, tricky and frustrating comes into play. Sometimes caring for people can feel a lot like writing on a dirty paper towel. You think you know what’s going to happen when in reality you don’t have a clue. It takes time to know people, love them and go with the ebb and flow, just like trying to straighten and glue, write on and create using someone else’s leftover. And yet in both cases, it is well worth the effort. Love and art takes time, patience and a mindset to be willing to do the work to get it right.

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