It comes, unsurprisingly, from Latin. What may be surprising is the root: it means to have, hold, possess. It’s an ownership term, really, and it raised my interest because, as it happens with old words, we do not use it in that sense. We use the word for something that is fragile, young, delicate or for a feeling of deep affection that makes us smile at our happiness.
I can possibly reconcile the first meaning with the root, as usually the things we have/hold are smaller, more fragile than ourselves. I am also used to diminutives and even diminutives of diminutives – they sound sweet, truly 🙂 – especially around children (smaller, more delicate, fragile).
I cannot reconcile the second meaning though, not to that root. It would be interesting to know how it got there. Maybe the ownership is reversed, do you think? Maybe the object of our tenderness actually has a hold of us, and we enjoy our servitude?
Tenderness in this form leads, if you’re the impulsive type (like me) to the blurting out of certain facts of life (like “I love you”), most of the time in the middle of conversations that have nothing much to do with feelings. It’s a welling up of feeling, you see, it was always there but then that object of tenderness says something so lovely that you can’t help yourself and you have to let them know of the link.
Even if the situation puts a muzzle on the words though, tenderness is one of those feelings that calls out for more of the same. Unlike romantic love, where pain is almost implied in the process, tenderness leans more towards agape, about as pure as any human feeling can get, and so pain is bypassed which makes you feel safe, which then leads to you wanting more tenderness and so you put yourself in situations where you are likely to get this. In other words, you seek out both the feeling and the people who have offered this in the past.
Tenderness is an indulgent feeling, there is a luxuriating qulaity to it that I believe stems from that feeling of safety I mentioned above. This is what I mean by the hold being reversed. If we are safe, then it follows that some walls can come down, that we do not have to prove so much, be so active or try to decide how far to go. We do not have to impress therefore we can relax, be vulnerable and understand ourselves as small, rather than the larger than life bias we usually see ourselves through.
We offer tenderness usually to children, youth, pets, the elderly and sometimes baby gods. Basically, the ones on the brink of change (to grown-ups, to human, to death, to power).
When it comes to receiving tenderness though, sometimes we identify the lack before defining it. Something may be missing from a relationship that we have in another. We wish and ask for it (let’s just cuddle on the couch, anybody?), we model it, we grieve when we don’t get it and yet we get embarassed when we see it (PDA? It’s in our DNA 😛 ). Contrary creatures that we are!
Now, what to do about those who have never felt tenderness? Where will they learn?