A Letter to My Valentine
Do you remember our first Valentine’s Day? You blindfolded me at the end of dinner and we drove off together. I knew where we were, the twists and turns of the road were familiar. My rightness frustrated you, not for the last time, so you drove into a parking lot and did donuts leaving me confused. You led me out of the car and into a quiet house. There was soft music playing and I wondered for a moment if this was breaking and entering and if I would be willing to follow you to jail. You took the blindfold off and there we stood in the room of the bed and breakfast where we ended our honeymoon just a few months earlier. There were chocolates and rose petals on the bed. It was a grand gesture.
We shared this story the following week with our older married friends. They laughed at us as they shared in our joy. Love changes, they said, becomes less grand but much deeper, more comfortable. That would never happen to us, we said, believing they were talking about something smaller than what we shared.
Marriage is hard work, they said. It’s rolling up sleeves, tensing muscles, bracing ourselves and ending up grimy with sweat, dirt and tears. Parenting has been hard work for us, that’s for damn sure, but not marriage. We don’t really do conflict and have only dug our heels in once in twenty years. Marriage, for us, is about paying attention.
Our hardest struggles have been the heartbreaking lonliness I’ve felt around you and the way you live life skimming the top. There was a better story for our marriage, or course there was. So we paid closer attention and named our pain.
“I wonder if you love me.” “I wonder why you don’t know.” “I wonder why you love me.” “I wonder why you need so many words.”
We pay attention when we’re coasting because we know this pain will creep forth in our silent moments, the ones that are born of neglect rather than ease.
You text me to tell me to take deep breaths, to remind me that we hate seizures, to ask me if I remember Luke and Laura’s wedding, to drive safely, to tell me that you love me even more than Siri who apparently does all of this texting for you now. You Skype me from our son’s track meet so I can cheer while you coach from the sidelines. You let me buy a dishwasher though you insist ours isn’t broken even as you lean a chair with a bag of pellets against it to keep it closed. You kiss me for six seconds and smile a little when Liam says gross. You make me coffee just the way I like it, strong with just a little sweet, and snuggle on the couch with me so we can greet each weekend morning together.
You’re paying attention.
I’m paying attention too. I’m using my words before you get hit with my feelings or my silence. My attitude has changed and I’m less intense. I encourage you and enjoy you more because I like you most of the time now. I told you almost ten years ago that I liked you for the first time. You wondered how I could be married to you and not like you though I love you truly and I wondered how you didn’t know the difference between like and love. I like you now that you’re living you’re life. You share your day with me, you feed your creativity at home and you even engage in your friendships. So much to like. It’s nice to have that sorted now, to be the wise ones. Now you just text me to tell me you like me and I smile at the thought of your knowing.
This paying attention feels gentle, like leaning forward, close like listening, and still like being near you.
So here we are at Valentine’s Day twenty years later. There will be no grand gesture. I refuse to give you socks and underwear as a gift so I give you my words. And even though it’s not entirely fair to give you something I want, I would argue that it’s words that haved saved us. Even the absense of them is no longer cold. We’ll snuggle up in bed at 8:30 and you’ll re-read this post and ask me all kinds of questions. How can love look like this? What does this even mean? Is this what we wanted? Can we be better?
We’ve become the older marrieds who are comfortable in this deep and wide love we share, the one that is measured in small moments but is stored as a vast treasure.
I pinky swear that I love you. I like you too.