Are you going to love me right away or is it going to take a while?
Last year, in the midst of a whirlwind year living in the Midwest, my roommate read a one-page passage to me from a book she was reading. I’m going to paraphrase, since I don’t remember the exact words she read to me, but it was enough to catch my attention and for her to hunt me down, to get my opinion.
When we meet somebody, we’re trying to get him or her to love us. Not romantically, but on some level we want them to like us. We introduce ourselves, we put on a certain face, we talk about ourselves, we present ourselves in the best like—we’re trying to make them like us, love us.
It was an interesting piece of writing to be presented. I thought it over and I assumed there was some truth to it. Now, nine months or a year later, I’m back revisiting this random thought, which came from a book I never knew the title to or the author of. When I first arrived at the orphanage, during my first few weeks of teaching, I couldn’t help but think about how the boys were interacting with me.
I used to do little art projects with some of the boys after school. I would take first grade after school one day; second grade the next, etc. It was torture. Trying to organize an art activity involving paper, pencils, crayons, random crafts, and all sorts of other small stuff was slightly stressful when there was nothing else going on after school and every single boy wanted to be a part of it. Needless to say, I’ve since reworked how I spend my spare time with the boys. But, back then, when I was fresh off of the plane, I looked around at the large group of boys clawing and clinging for the art supplies and for my attention. One in particular brought my mind back to this passage. He has a speech impediment—actually that isn’t right—he can’t speak at all. He communicates with grunts and groans. Now, I can understand everything he says to me. But when I first arrived, when he was just one in a heap of boys vying for my attention and he was grunting at me, I looked at him and just thought, “We all just want to be loved, don’t we?”
When you’re one boy in a crowd of fifty and a new visitor walks in, you put on a brave face and immediately start doing what you can to make the new person love you. If you’re little, you run up to them and hug them, shout at them, tell them something surprising, or whatever else you can think of to get their attention. If you’re a boy in one of the middle-range ages, you hang back, waiting for the newbie to tire of the clinging and the shouting. Then, when they’ve managed to make their way further onto the orphanage grounds, you can move in and try to strike up light conversation. If you’re particularly interesting personality-wise or you are witty enough, you might win yourself an introduction and a few minutes of conversation. If you’re an “older” boy, your best chance is to avoid the visitor until they come to you, which they may never do. And, if they do, your best option may just be to politely answer their questions and then continue to go about your day. After all, if you say too much, they may not love you as much as they would have if you had just remained in the background. Sometimes it’s better to say less. You’ve learned this as you’ve grown up. You recognize that new people don’t like to be clung to like the little kids do, they don’t like to be hassled with shallow conversation for too long. They want to be present, but they essentially want to be left alone. You learn this, you take it to heart, you hope they love you.
We all just want to be loved. I can’t stand the way that thoughts turn over in my head while I’m at the orphanage. It’s just a sickening place to be. There is so much love there, but it’s clouded in confusion and sadness. The abandonment that each boy has experienced echoes off of the metal walls that hold them all in. They’re each given a place to sleep, a table to eat at, a school to attend, a video game console to obsess over, and even a little supervision. But are they given love? I don’t think so, not really. I don’t think they even need to put on their usual dog and pony show for each other. They all already know if they love each other or not. They don’t need to fight, on a daily basis at least, to get the kids and matrons around them to love them or not. But when a visitor shows up, they have to go all in.
Interestingly enough, I do this to. I mean, everyone does it, but I do it at the orphanage. Just like the boys, I want to be loved. In fact, I even want them to love me. I try to present myself in a certain way, one that will appeal to them. This is normally subconscious, but I know that I do it. I know that if the boys like me, the better the chances of connecting with them, of developing meaningful relationships. I just hope that since I’m taking the time to set these thoughts aside and evaluate them, I’m getting the chance to grow through this idea.
I don’t think it’s necessarily the best idea in the world to go into the world hoping each person you meet will like you, but I think it’s important to keep the idea in the back of your mind, to be conscious of how you present yourself, what you say. I’m leaving this a little open ended, there is plenty more to think about…