Ten Gallons 

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.

6 thoughts on “Ten Gallons 

  1. Amy B. says:

    I, too, am a just. Heck, I’m probably just a half-pint most days, if I’m honest.

    I’m so glad you’re blogging! My little containers runneth over with happiness for that.


  2. Kerri says:

    This is so annoying because I’m going to get all Jesus on you.
    But I’ve been thinking about this post since I read it the other day. It reminds me about the whole mustard seed metaphor. The way it’s usually told to us is that if you have the faith of a mustard seed, you can move mountains. So if you’re not moving mountains, you obviously don’t even have that much faith.
    But I think that’s all wrong. I think God is saying, “Whatcha got?” And we’re all, “Well…this mustard seed of faith.” And She says, “Now that’s something I can work with!”
    So now you’re all, “I’ve just got this pint glass of love.” But She’s saying, “That’ll do just fine, dear. That’s plenty.” Because even though it may not feel like 10 gallons of love, that doesn’t mean it’s not enough. What you have to give really is enough. For today. For you and your children. It’s enough. And you’ll get another pint or teaspoons or whatever is necessary for tomorrow when you need it tomorrow. Right now, what you have is enough.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Kyran says:

    I love everything you’re writing these days. But especially this. I’ve always felt like I do a piss poor job of showing that I care in the usual demonstrable ways. I’m never the first person at the door with a casserole. I mean to write the thank you note, but then I forget. I let other people arrange the baby showers, the food trains, the engagement/divorce parties. We live in the South, where “doing” is the official language of love, and that’s a beautiful thing, but there are other languages that speak love, as a friend had to remind me one day, when I was beating myself up. Other people have the casseroles covered, she said. You bring other gifts.

    Your gift right now–to everyone, me included–is being Jennifer. And that is so much bigger than pint-size. 🙂


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