When I was young, I married my best friend. It’s a cliché easy to dismiss 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. After they’ve had a devastating rift, Shirley McClaine says passionately to her husband of fifty years, Hector Elizondo, “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. As he takes her in his arms, he whispers: “Shhhh. I understand. I’ll never leave you.”
I married my best friend
This truth struck a chord. The springtime of love, while authentic, is not sustainable. 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. It’s the gifts.
From the start, Steven showered me with gourmet dinners and flowers, a stunning 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 twenty-five years, he’s lived his love with daily gestures; 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 delicious food for me.
When you love someone, you love all of them
Yet, of all his gifts, the most profoundly affirming is his desire for my happiness. My partner listens to me and acknowledges my dreams. Then, he helps me to realize them. 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 a meadow sloping downhill to a pond. At the water’s edge sits a cedar gazebo Steven constructed just for me, a place in nature for me to write. Christmas morning, amidst piles of discarded wrapping paper, I opened my last present, a homemade gift certificate entitled “Writer’s Retreat” featuring a photo of the meadow and gazebo.
To be truly loved is the greatest gift
My eyes flicker to his first, then out the window to the gazebo, the real life manifestation of his astounding love. I look back to the photo. Beneath it is typed,
“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. I’ll buy your groceries, pack your car, and send you on your way.”
Through my tears I look up at my beloved and see, written on his face, the map of our lives. His gifts carry the depth of his love for me, love for even the parts of me that aren’t so lovable. I am seen and known by this man, and still, he truly loves me. And that is the greatest gift of all.