Sometimes love comes wrapped up in a boxing glove.
DB - The Vagabond
The best explanation I ever heard of tough love came from my friend Charles during a group discussion on the first day of rehearsal for a play. Hearing it enabled me to understand why it is sometimes necessary, if you care for someone, to shake him loose from an illusion about himself, and to be brutal about it if you must.
Looking back I can remember and be grateful for times when one friend or another let loose a thunderbolt of therapeutic criticism over some special form of stupidity I was crowning myself with.
I spent too long in a relationship that was almost nothing but painful to me. The nastiness and verbal abuse often reduced me to tears even though I felt that I was doing my best for her and loving her enough. I was complaining about it to a friend one day hoping for his compassion, sympathy and agreement. He listened to my ranting for a while without saying a word of support. Finally he said "Let me ask you something. What are you getting out of this relationship?" That question brought me to my quiet senses. I realized I had been holding on to something out of a false sense of responsibility and that the pain of ending it was not going to be as bad as the pain of putting up with it.
Sometimes tough love can be very graphic. While in school I complained about my roommates leaving things on my desk, which was right inside the door, and I was arrogant and insulting about it. One night I came back from work and found that my roommates had gone out scavenging and had come back with as many strange things as they could find, including a no parking sign, and filled my desk to overflowing with this junk. I was furious. But when I faintly got the desk cleared off I softened up and told them that I got the point. My complaints stopped. After all, they were nice guys and they didn't do that because they hated me.
A colleague and I were invited to speak to a group of high school seniors who had just seen the play we were performing. During the discussion one of the boys asked what it would take to be an actor. I responded by asking him if he was considering a life in the theatre, and he said "mildly." My colleague said "Well, if you're thinking about it mildly don't think about it." The boy was stunned. I said a few words to soften the blow but I had to agree with what my fellow actor said and the boy needed to hear it.
What does the mother think when she's about to take a hairbrush to her kid's backside, or the father who is about to wallop his son? I don't know. But I know that the clear light of wisdom that you won't take from a parent, a teacher or a significant other can often come through to you from a loving friend's virtual slap in your self-righteous face. I've even got some healthy rough lip from some of my Jland friends when I've moaned about life's injustices.
What good is a friend if he doesn't beat up on you every now and then.