For I have known them all already, known them all;
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
— The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T. S. Eliot
Two good friends had their hearts broken recently and are hurting. Someone I really admire just had a cancer scare. I just heard of another friend’s marriage ending.
As Diana sings in A Chorus Line, “I dug right down to the bottom of my soul … but I felt nothing.” To paraphrase yet another song, I’ve come to suspect that my give a damn’s busted.
Or it could be all the snow days. Just sayin’.
But my recent lack of immediate empathy has dredged up some unresolved concerns about my capacity for love. Does every person in the world have the same capacity or do some have deeper wells than others?
I consulted the interwebs. Seriously. I Googled “different capacities for love.”
Again, there have been too many snow days.
Here’s what Oprah and Bishop TD Jakes have to say about it.
Here’s what I have to say about it: the concept of being a 10-Gallon person or a pint-sized person makes so much sense to me. During the last year of my marriage, my husband and I had many conversations about the ways we’d failed each other. In one particularly painful moment, he looked at me and said, “I don’t think you’ve ever loved me as much as I’ve loved you.”
I didn’t respond. Instead, I discussed it in therapy. I wrote about it in my short-lived journal. I got lost in thought while driving and ended up in the wrong place. More than once. It happens to the best of us.
Eventually, I began to try to form words around the part of that sentence I knew to be true and the part that I believed wasn’t. I tried to explain to him that I really did love him as much as he loved me, but that it was entirely possible he simply had the capacity to love me more.
In his heart and mind, he’d given me everything he had – 10-gallons worth of love. In my heart and mind, I was offering him my full-to-the-brim Mason jar and saying proudly, “Look! I love you! See?!” But it didn’t fill him up. He needed – and in many ways deserved – more than I could give in the way of love and affection.
My friend – one of the people I’ve been trying so hard to support despite feeling like I have so little to give – also wears a 10-gallon hat. Her ex is more like me. In an effort to explain the 10-Gallon Theory of Love, I told her that being friends with her is kind of like drinking from a fire hydrant.
From the confused look on her face, I’m not sure it landed the way I intended. Let me ‘splain.
There are people in the world who always have an endless supply of love, support and care to give to their friends, family and loved ones. For those of us who have a less-than-endless supply, it can feel like an onslaught. It can make us feel like we’re not worthy of that much love. Like we can’t figure out where it’s all coming from for the love of Pete! Like we’re being smothered with all the LOVE!
But that’s not her fault. It’s not my ex-husband’s fault. And it’s not my fault. It just is what it is.
I don’t know that I’ll ever be a 10-gallon person. I know right now, I don’t even have an extra pint to give. To mix my self-help metaphors, I’m drinking from an empty cup without my oxygen mask.
I’m more like Prufrock, measuring out my life with coffee spoons. Each small spoonful of love is being offered to my children first, myself second and my family and friends third. That’s the best I can do right now. It’s enough. I’m enough.
Maybe in a few weeks I can graduate to tablespoons.