In an earlier article on this blog, we told how Judson Swihart’s book “How Do You Say I Love You?”was all the rage in the 70s and 80s, until Gary Chapman restated and refined his material down to “Five Love Languages.” Swihart’s book featured eight languages of love–meeting material needs, helping each other, spending time together, meeting emotional needs, saying it with words, saying it with with touch, being on the same side, and bringing out the best in the other.
When Margaret and I discovered the Swihart book decades ago and then did the assignment in the back to determine our love languages, we made some interesting discoveries. We found that hers were “helping each other” and “spending time together”. Actually, this came as no surprise. I had known for some time that nothing made Margaret feel more loved than when I pitched in and helped around the house and we spent quality time together.
The surprise was discovering my own love language.
According to the formula, my love language was “being on the same side.” If Margaret wanted Joe to feel loved, she should support him as a man, husband, father, Christian, minister, pastor, etc. And she did.
I’m the one who had an awakening by this revelation.
Making this discovery helped me to understand something that happened many years earlier when we were dating, something that had bothered me for years.
For a brief time, my longtime roomie Joel Davis and I had a third roommate, a fellow from the backwoods named Kenneth. Now, I’m from Nauvoo, Alabama, not exactly a metropolis, but I had at least tried to learn a few things. Kenneth had learned little or nothing. He was raw. But he did have one saving grace.
He owned a car.
So, this particular Saturday Margaret and I double-dated with Kenneth and Margaret’s best friend Myra, who would later become our maid of honor. There was no attraction between Myra and Kenneth. I expect she went along that day just for the fun of it.
It should have been fun, but it was anything but that for me.
We drove to Oak Mountain State Park, some 15 or 20 miles below Birmingham for a picnic. We got out of the car and began to look around and chat, and that’s when it happened.
For reasons completely unknown to me then or now, Kenneth began hitting on me.
Now, I I am a middle child with three brothers and two sisters, so I know what it means to be picked on. But for some inexplicable reason, Kenneth decided he would start hitting on my shoulder with his fist. Looking back, I’m sure he felt socially awkward and out of place, and this was how he expressed it. Boys being boys. That sort of thing.
Except that now he’s beating my shoulder into a pulp. And I was not enjoying it.
Several times I asked him to stop, but to no avail. He kept hitting me.
And that’s when this Saturday picnic turned more bizarre.
Margaret and Myra turned against me.
They both said, “What’s wrong with you?”
I said, “What’s wrong with me? The guy is turning my shoulder into sausage, that’s what’s wrong with me.”
They said, “Well, you have a bad attitude.”
I said, “I didn’t have one. But I’m getting one real quickly here.”
Meanwhile Ken was still at it.
I realized I had only two choices. I could respond in kind and give as good as I was getting, and whale the daylights out of the guy. But that would create more problems than it would solve.
Or I could leave.
I chose to walk away. (That, Margaret would have told you later, is par for the course. Joe does not enjoy a fight. John Wayne he is not.)
I said, “I’ll see you,” and walked away.
I walked out of the park and over the small mountain and found that I had a decision to make. The road dead-ended. Go to the left a mile and you’ll reach US 31 which leads back into Birmingham from the South. Go to the right a mile for US 231 which leads back into the city from the Southeast.
I had no car, I was walking, and I could not recall which way we had come.
So, I turned right and walked to US 231. At a service station, I gave a fellow money to drive me into town. There, he let me out, I caught a bus, and went back to our apartment.
Back at the park, Margaret and the others figured I was just walking off my frustration and would return. When I didn’t, they went looking. But they turned left where I had gone right, and never did locate me.
We saw each other in church the next day . I recall no further details of how this matter was resolved. But I cannot forget the incident itself.
Only when I learned–maybe 15 years later–that “being on the same side” was my language of love did I understand what was happening that day.
I did not care what Myra did. If she took Kenneth’s side as he beat my shoulder into a pulp, that mattered little. But when Margaret piled on, it mattered a great deal. I was feeling extremely unloved by her and I took the way out many a man–I have subsequently learned–takes when the situation with his wife becomes unbearable: I walked away.
Margaret responded well when she learned this the best way to make her husband feel loved was to demonstrate to him that she was “on my team.”
Thereafter, she would encourage me to invite church groups into our home.
When a state denominational conference met in our city, she agreed to host an open house for many of the leaders and their spouses in our home.
In going over notes from her bookcase after her death, I found one handwritten by me in the late 1980s. I had written to her, “When you can attend a trustees meeting all morning and then host a meeting of 20 people in our home that evening, you are something really special.” (She was a trustee for Wingate University for a time.)
I have no memory of the occasion, but the point is she was going out of her way to show her man whose team she was on.
If I asked her to help me with a sermon (primarily by giving her reaction or suggestions after listening to it), she did it readily until the morning of her death. She sat at this breakfast table listening as I read that day’s blog, then suggested that a certain word was not the best choice and pointed out another sentence where I’d used the same word twice (always a no-no).
I have been loved. I have know that I was loved. I have felt loved.