One of my classes in college required every student to take the Taylor-Johnson Temperament Analysis. This wasn’t just an abbreviated online questionnaire. This was the full battery designed to measure, according to their website, “eighteen dimensions of personality that are important components of personal adjustment and in interpersonal relationships.”
The results of this test came back in a graph, with words like composed and lighthearted at one end and their opposite traits, nervous and depressive, at the other. We had to meet with a counselor to discuss our results.
You can imagine why that is, what with nervous and depressive being possible outcomes.
I considered myself to be a fairly well-rounded person. Though I knew this was a measure of personality and there wasn’t a right or wrong, the good girl in me figured there was a more right result and I anticipated a nice, somewhat even line through the middle of the paper – not too nervous (simmer down, Scooby) but certainly not too composed (so exactly what it it you are hiding, hmm?).
When I got my results back, I’m fairly sure my face turned an immediate shade of Valentines red because at the top of the page, right in the middle, was the word subjective with the opposite trait, objective way down at the bottom.
One guess where Emily’s line nearly went straight off the page.
I measured so subjective on that test they may as well not have had objective on there at all. Ninety-nine percent subjective, people. I wanted to cry about it but that one percent objectivity I had rolling around in my bones thought better of it.
I remember my counselor saying something like, It’s the extremes we want to pay attention to.
Well. I suppose that meant we were extremely subjective. I didn’t like it, but I couldn’t deny it either. As I moved through life, if I didn’t feel it, then it simply wasn’t true. My experience of life and my beliefs about God and you and everything else were based, in large part, upon how I felt.
I was in my early twenties when I took that test. You could have told me a hundred times that love isn’t a feeling, but in my mind, if I didn’t feel loved, then I wasn’t. End of story.
Learning what real love is has been a slow awakening. I could write about all I’m learning of love from my husband (who has taught me more than anyone) or from my parents (who have been married for 40 years now). But as I think about it and as I’m challenged to keep this series as present as possible, there are two people who are teaching me about love these past few weeks more than anyone else.
My twin girls.
Really, all three of my kids are teaching me about love. But the girls, since they came first and their birth marked the beginning of that time where everything-will-now-be-different-in-your-life-forever-more, they seemed to have influenced my idea of love more ferociously than my third baby.
The question for me was never do they love me? I knew better than to look to feel loved from tiny helpless babies. Instead, I struggled through foggy days and endless nights, wondering as I fed and diapered and comforted, do I love them?
I knew I loved them in the way a human person has regard and respect for another human person. But I was still learning what it meant to be a mother, to be the only mother they will ever have. Is this what it’s supposed to feel like to be a mother who loves her babies?
This is a question I struggled with a lot during those first few years of motherhood.
My girls are nine years old now. They are in the same class at school and this year we’ve watched as they’ve started to share secrets more than ever. They choose together more than they choose apart. They hold hands and skip. It’s delightful to watch. I recently asked them both: Who is your best friend, you know, besides each other? And do you know they both said the same thing in response?
She’s not my friend, she’s my sister.
I realized then something I’ve known about love but hadn’t yet been able to define: True love is often so fierce and so thick that the feelings don’t have space to surface. My girls love one another deeply, but I don’t think they have loving feelings for each other. At least, not yet.
They are learning to love one another in action the way I know they love in their hearts. And I learn about love as I watch them.
When they were small, I wondered if I loved them enough. But now looking back, I realized I was asking that question even as I was in the middle of loving them. I fed, clothed, protected, nurtured, and comforted them. I moved into their chaos and I still do.
Love moves. Love acts. Love does.
Love and faith are more closely related than I ever realized before. When the feelings of love aren’t there (and honestly lately, they are rarely there in the relationships that mean the most to me), I have to rely on simple truth and daily action.
My feelings do not determine my capacity for loving. If I re-took that Taylor-Johnson test now, as a mother and a wife and a grown up person, I believe it would show different results. But even if it didn’t, I’m okay with it.
Who is teaching you about love and what have you learned?
This is the fourth post in a series and I’m going to end it here for now. I look forward to considering the artists and influencers who are teaching me about art, community, and marriage in the near future when I have less deadlines to meet. So far we’ve covered the topics of writing, home, church and today, in honor of Valentines week, love.