Whenever a friend has trouble in their relationship, I always ask the same question.
“Are you the bird… or are you the hand?”
Some friends think the question suggests one of them in the relationship loves the other more. That’s not true. Their love is equal. It’s just expressed totally differently. It’s like how the word for love isn’t pronounced the same by a German as a Korean. But it’s definitely the same feeling.
The idea is childishly simple. Which is why I know it’s true. Einstein said if a complex idea can be explained in simple terms it means one understands it. I’ve thought a lot about it and this analogy works for all love relationships.
“The bird and the hand” is pretty much the E=mc2 of love.
Here it is. In relationships, there are two roles: the lover and the beloved. You’ve seen this dynamic at play in your relationships, as well as your friends and family. It’s a variation on “opposites attract.” And it’s as natural as magnetism.
You may not believe me. So… let’s use some celebrities we all know and test this “bird and the hand” dynamic.
Ozzie and Sharon Osbourne. Been together for ages, clearly they love each other. Ozzie is the bird and Sharon is the hand. Ozzie needs to be free to fly, to go off and be as weird as he is. And Sharon needs to nurture Ozzie. She understands his nature and knows he will always return to her. If Sharon tried to keep him tight to her, Ozzie would fly away for good. And if Sharon thought Ozzie wasn’t going to return, she’d go and find a new bird to love. She knows Ozzie will come back so she leaves her hand open. Ozzie’s certain Sharon cares for him and won’t smother him with her love, so he happily returns.
This dynamic requires trust and confidence. This is where most folks run into trouble. A lack of trust and confidence dooms relationships more often than the word “Facebook” shows up in divorce filings. Birds need to be confident the hand will hold them, yet will also let them go. And the hand must trust the bird loves them even when it flies away.
Think of Jessica Biel and Justin Timberlake. Jessica’s a total hand. She wants to hold Justin, who’s about as flighty as they come. She’s learned to trust him and keep her hand open. He’s confident she’ll be warm when he returns, yet will let him go again. They finally got married when she understood a caged bird doesn’t sing as pretty.
Let’s be clear, it’s not always a woman who’s the nurturer. Sometimes, it’s the dude.
Jay-Z is a hand and Beyonce is the bird.
The same for Brangelina. Brad Pitt is a total hand. Angelina Jolie is his beloved bird.
Angelina wants what she wants and he goes along with it. Brad’s happy to have her in his life. He was content to build “green” houses in New Orleans, while she flew around the world on UN Missions. It works for them.
However, when Brad Pitt was married to Jennifer Aniston, he tried to be the bird. And she was the hand that held him. That didn’t work so well. They were actually both hands and two hands don’t make a fun couple. Brad wandered away because… he desired to hold a bird, not to hold hands.
When two hands grip each other, their tight squeeze lacks surprise. It grows boring and airless. So… when a new bird caught Brad’s eye, he couldn’t deny his stifling boredom. Down deep he knew he’s a hand and he wanted to hold a bird. It’s the only way for him to be happy. It’s his nature.
Brad and Angelina also prove both the hand and bird are equally sexy. Don’t get hung up on the imagery of the metaphor. It’s just an analogy.
Moving from one relationship to the next, your role may switch. And sometimes, in a relationship, you might take turns being the bird or the hand. This is a delicate dance and takes a very dedicated effort. If the timing is ever off, or you aren’t ready to switch roles, or you try to convince yourself you’re ready to switch when you really aren’t… everything will fall apart like a trailer park in a tornado.
It’s what happened to Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis. They were a daring and fun couple, so loving and free, yet anchored in the fluid rhythms of their family. They took turns being the bird and the hand… but eventually, they were tested by the twister of time and their relationship was flattened. It’s a difficult dance to keep forever in rhythm… especially when storms begin to blow.
So… what happens when two free-spirited birds get together? Usually, they don’t spend enough time together or communicate well and soon all the freedom between them turns the relationship sad and ugly, like bird shit on a wedding dress.
Think of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian. They’re both birds… and yes, I know… betting on a Kim Kardashian relationship ending is kinda like betting on the sun rising. Way too easy. My advice to Kanye is he better always be the hand if he wants it to work. Some say Kim isn’t really the bird… they say she’s actually the beard. So let’s just keep moving.
A bird is happy to sing its song and be appreciated, to have a warm place to land and occasionally be held. While, a hand is happy to stroke soft feathers and listen to the song, to nurture the bird whenever it occasionally returns. The key word here isn’t happy… but “occasionally.” Birds need occasional freedom and hands need occasional surprise.
Fear, paranoia, and jealousy will make a hand crush a bird in its grip, or make the bird fly away to save itself. While neglect and mistrust will make a hand feel like the bird will never return, and eventually it finds a new bird, one it can hold.
The key to happiness in your relationship is to know who’s the bird and who’s the hand. Then make sure you don’t expect a hand to fly or a bird to hold you.