When I was young, I married my best friend, a cliché dismissed as sentimental until it happens to you. In my husband, I found my home. Now, ensconced in midlife and traversing the terrain of family life inherent with its joys and sorrows, I’m filled with deepening gratitude for his presence and a love that grows stronger — and simpler — with time.
A scene from the movie “Valentine’s Day” illustrates the enigma of mature love. Shirley McClaine says passionately to her husband of 50 years, Hector Elizondo after they’ve had a devastating rift: “I know I let you down. And maybe you don’t think I deserve your forgiveness, but you’re going to give it to me anyway. Because when you love someone, you love all of them — that’s the job. The things that you find lovable and the things that you don’t find lovable.” His anger quickly melts and he quiets her pleading, taking her in his arms and whispering: “Shhhh. I understand. I’ll never leave you.”
This truth struck a chord. The springtime of love, while authentic, is not sustainable. And when the veneer wears off, we’re left naked and exposed. Love the compulsive idiosyncrasies, the annoying habits, the abrasive characteristics? The graying hair and sagging skin, the morning breath, bed head, and restless legs, the flatulence and cellulite and soft bellies? Love these things, too? Yes. Especially these.
Deserving or not, I know my husband loves me. And it’s not just his abundant declarations that tell me so (his “I-love-yous” are frequent and spontaneous). It’s the gifts. From the start, Steven showered me with gourmet dinners, roses, lingerie, a gorgeous engagement ring, and a perfect proposal. He decorated the house with hundreds of hand-cut paper hearts our first Valentine’s Day. He wrote poetry. He saved me the Biscoff cookies from his flights. He also paid off my student loan, supported my aging mother financially, and raised my young children as his own. Consummately generous, it’s his nature to give. Of his time, his efforts, his resources.
For nearly 25 years, he’s lived his love with daily gifts, making coffee in the morning, brushing the small of my back as he walks past, letting me sleep in on Sundays, surprising me with my favorite wine. He also replaces my brakes, manages the taxes, and does the laundry. He senses my moods and makes me laugh. He cooks for me.
Yet, of all his gifts, the most profoundly affirming is his desire for my happiness. He listens to me and acknowledges my dreams. He helps me to realize them, even if they’ve evolved over the years. Genuinely supportive with no strings attached, he wants for me what I want for myself and that is the best gift I could ask for.
This year we spent Christmas at our little cabin in the woods. Out the front window is a pastoral view of the meadow sloping downhill to a pond. At the water’s edge sits a gazebo Steven constructed for me in which to write. Christmas morning, amidst piles of discarded wrapping paper, I open my last present, a homemade gift certificate entitled “Writer’s Retreat.” I glance from his eyes to the window then back to a photo of the gazebo. Beneath it is printed, “You seldom have the opportunity to enjoy time for you, for writing, for breathing, and I want to help. Please take a weekend for yourself, at the farm. I’ll take care of the kids, plan your food, buy your groceries, and pack your car to send you on your way. Merry Christmas, honey. I love you.”
Through my tears I look at my beloved and see the map of our lives written on his face. The gift he gives carries the depth of his devotion and the balm of his forgiveness, given freely–to all of me, even the parts that aren’t so lovable. I feel seen and known and loved by this man, and that is the greatest gift of all.