All the talk about Valentine’s Day baffles me every year. It seems to be such an odd tradition. Unmarried women stress over whether they will be alone or with someone. Married women stress over whether their husbands will remember the day. Unmarried men stress over how much money to spend on which items to impress the girl of their dreams. Married men stress over whether this is the year for flowers or a simple card. Does all this stress have any basis in love? I mean, what is love?
Even after 36 years of marriage, I’m not sure I can give an accurate definition of what love means, but I’m going to give it a try. At least I’ll try to explain what love means to me personally, as I look back in time at my marriage.
Dad used to say, “When you’re considering whether or not to marry a man, stand back and take a good look. Picture him first thing in the morning before he’s brushed his teeth and showered. Picture him coming in sweaty after a hard day. Try to picture what he’ll look like cleaning up puke and changing poopy diapers. Picture him broke and not knowing how he is going to put food on the table. Then, if you think you can still love him, marry him.” I took Dad’s advice, and I did stand back to take that look, and a second look, and yes, even a third look. Yes, I gave the engagement ring back three times — BUT we’ve been married 36 years.
A friend of mine told me recently that she loves her husband so much more now than the day she married him. She said she knew that sounded bad, and that she did love him when she married him. I told her she didn’t have to explain because I knew exactly what she meant. If love is done correctly, it becomes much more intense, and much more sweet as the years pass.
When we first got married, love was going to the laundromat together on Thursday night, putting coins in the machines, and going next door to McDonald’s for “dinner out.” Soon love became my husband packing his lunch box while I puked over the toilet at the smell of lunch meat and tomatoes. It wasn’t long before love was making life or death decisions together about a very ill baby in NICU. By the time she came home from the hospital, we had a washing machine, but no dryer. Love became hanging laundry on the line. I always washed the diapers last (yes, we did the real thing in those days) because it took so long to get them through a soak cycle, a wash and rinse cycle, and an extra rinse cycle with fabric softener. We would go to bed after I put the fabric softener in the machine. Love was Danny putting on his work boots at 5:00 a.m., and crunching the snails on the lawn in the early morning dew while he hung the diapers on the line before going to work so they would be dry by the time I needed them. Love was finding a used dryer for $30 and getting help to install it for me the week we brought baby number two home from the hospital. There were two more babies over time. NICU was no stranger to us by any means. Love was also losing a child by miscarriage and getting through it. Each event brought us closer together.
There was a house to make into a home, and never enough money to go around. There was robbing Peter to pay Paul. There were important decisions to make. Do we send the children to the neighborhood school, or bus them to the basic school across town? Does Mom work, or stay home? How long do I stay home? Is it more important for me to stay home while they are young, or to have a college fund available when they are older? In the end, Dad worked two (and sometimes three jobs), and I worked part-time in the evenings in order to scrape by until the kids were older, and I went back to work full-time and we cut him down to one full-time job. Love grew.
Love became standing together as we tried to make responsible adults out of these little charges. Love was realizing that each child was different from the others, and that there was no recipe for success for any of them. Love was holding each other through hurt and pain. Love was fighting when we needed to fight, and getting over it when we needed to move on.
Love was losing my Dad, then his Dad, then my Mom, then his Mom, and helping each other through the grief. Love was getting each other through the loss of my stepson to a tragic accident.
Love was living through our various church responsibilities — some very difficult ones — and keeping our sense of humor in the process. Love was learning how to “support” each other in those church callings — sometimes by doing them as a team effort.
These days love is living through our various ailments as we sometimes struggle to get out of bed in the morning. Love is realizing that we did our best as parents. Love is admitting that we made mistakes in the process, but they turned out okay in spite of our failings. Love is the sideways knowing glances at each other when our children make similar mistakes. Love is holding on to each other when we are hurting, but also giving each other time and space to grow individually. Love is knowing when to speak and when to be still. Love is smiling at the same idiosyncrasies in each other that drove us crazy the first part of our marriage. Love is cutting each other slack because our time together on this earth grows shorter each day. Love is obliterating the unkind gestures of outsiders by giving kindness to each other. Love is serving one another at the same time we serve those around us. Love is working together, side by side. Love is locking out the world with all its hurt.
Love is all of the above, but most of all, it is the history we make with each other over time — the history that will stand the test of time. Love is never giving up on each other, or on love itself. Love is being grateful for each day spent together, for the blessings of our lives, and for the joy we give each other.