Like a glove

Shopping for a new pair of gloves is something that I’ve only let myself do once or twice in my life, probably because the ones that I like are too nice to buy more often than that. For a while now, I’ve had a thing for a really excellent pair of leather gloves (preferably with cashmere lining, but no need to be too picky).

I think it started back in high school, when I noticed a pair on sale at T.J. Maxx and bought them for the winter. My friends jokingly called them my “O.J.s” in honor of O.J. Simpson, whose hand famously did not fit in the evidentiary glove. (I wonder how many hand exercises his attorney told him to do between the arrest and the trial?) Later, in college, I received a new pair in a roommate gift exchange, and (more recently) went out to buy another pair when I lost the last pair in the back of a cab.

I would never want to try to buy gloves for someone else, though, because there’s a certain feel to the pair with the right fit that only you can know. To me, buying gloves for someone else would be similar to choosing someone else’s perfume: unless you know exactly what will be right for them, it’s a fairly risky enterprise!

What does it mean, anyway, to say that something fits like a glove? Or, to bring things closer to home with regard to my reason for writing today, what does it mean when we say that about a person?

There are all sorts of possible answers to this question. I’ve had the phrase on my mind because of a trip home to see someone special for Easter this past weekend, and because I enjoy exploring the meaning of phrases that we use every day, I thought I might as well explore this phrase here. As you read, imagine a close friend or loved one, a neighbor or a spouse, or a particular family member about whom you’d use this phrase.

In the most obvious sense, saying, “She fits me like a glove” means that the two of you are close. As a glove hugs your hand, so her personality hugs yours, covering over any flaws and making you feel warm and safe. As a hand slides into a glove, so your personalities mesh—tightly, snugly, leaving no distance or detachment between you and her. Wherever there is a void, she fills it, and vice versa. Wherever there is something she needs, you can offer it, and she does the same for you.

This also means that you function well together. A glove wouldn’t work very well without a hand in it, and there are many times (particularly in the winter) when a hand wouldn’t work without its glove. Together, though, each functions better than either one would by itself. The same can be true of people. Each helps the other one be the best he or she can be. Each helps the other one realize his or her full potential. Together, they show each other what is possible when neither of them is working alone.

For this reason, when someone fits you like a glove, each of you is better off because of the other one. It’s not just that you need the other person; it’s that when you have the other person, you’re even better than you thought was possible. Think of how much more you appreciate heat when you slip your hand into a warm glove on a cold winter’s day. More than giving some relief to your hands, a well-made glove reminds you of what things could be like without it—and how blessed you are to have what you do. And if gloves could talk, I’ll bet they’d tell you that they’re glad to be given the opportunity to do what they do best.

When someone fits you like a glove, it means that each of you gives form and support to the other. Think of what a glove looks like without a hand inside. It can be crumpled up into a ball, shoved into a pocket, wrinkled, or stretched out of shape. But with a hand inside, the glove is full and firm. It moves with you, and you’re able to move because of it. (After all, a hand without a glove in sub-zero weather doesn’t look too good, either.) So also with a person who fits you that closely: like a hand in a glove, she helps you stand up strong, hold your own, and be what you were meant to be. And like a glove for a hand, she gives you the support you need to feel warm, safe, and not alone.

Really, though, I think my favorite idea for the meaning of that phrase is that each of you was made with the other in mind. Back before gloves were mass-produced, they were made by hand. Someone would go to all the trouble of carefully cutting the leather to the appropriate shape and sewing it together, stitch by stitch. For wealthy customers, the hands may even have been measured at the outset so that the fit was exact. This means that that particular pair of gloves would fit the person like nobody else, and that there was only one pair like it in the whole world. That’s an incredibly special thing—especially when we’re not talking about a pair of gloves, but a living, breathing, wonderful human being.

Here’s the thing, though: as anyone who has bought a pair or two of leather gloves will tell you, the best fit comes from gloves that allow you room to grow with time. The finest gloves will have potential for pliability and comfort sewn right into them, making the hand-in-glove experience better with the passage of months and years. The same is true for the strongest, best-built relationships: they allow room to grow, change, and breathe. There is a certain independence in this mutual dependence, a functional paradox that nevertheless leads to the longest-lasting results.

And while even the best pair of gloves will eventually lose their luster and wear away, there are some relationships that you can feel right away are made to go the distance. If you’re ever blessed enough to find one like that, never let it go!

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