Valentine's Day. The day that's supposed to symbolize romantic love. Except, too often it instead becomes another source of pressure. Will you find a nice enough card, buy good enough candy, send the most beautiful flowers? How expensive do you need to go in regard to dinner out? A car payment? Or, will your valentine scorn all things traditional and leave you feeling like a predictable, out of the loop dinosaur, holding wilting flowers and expensive candy while wondering, "How could I have gone so wrong?"
I think a lot about love, and not just on this day. I'm somewhat of an expert on it, since I've been married for four decades, went with that same person three and one half years, and still find him the most fascinating, endearing, delectable man on the planet. I'm sorry to say longevity is something that is far too rare now. Too often, it seems, relationships don't work out and people move on—mostly to be eventually disappointed yet again.
I think I know why. I once read that being in love and loving someone are two completely different things. In fact, they are polar opposites. When you're in love, everything is about you: how the other person makes you feel. That excitement, that rush, that just plain horniness that you swear will last forever. After all, who doesn't like feeling so alive? But love? Well, when you truly love someone it's all about them. How you can make them feel. How you can make them succeed. How you can make them happy. One is selfish; the other selfless.
Oh, don't get me wrong. The best relationships have both. The funny thing is, the "in love" part, the part where you want to rip the clothes off the other person...well, that leaves. And here is where most people make that fatal mistake. They assume that once it leaves, it's gone for good. But, not so. Passion is very powerful. In fact, so powerful that our bodies couldn't take a constant state of excitement. How would bills get paid, jobs get done, houses get cleaned, if all we did was make hot, wicked sex? Plus, our hearts couldn't take it. Not day after day for years and years and years.
Yet, if you love someone, you find that passion ebbs and flows. It's like a tidal wave when it first hits. When it pulls back, just like the ocean, it does return again. And mark my words: sometimes it's even hotter. Yeah, I'm going to gross you out and tell you that we've experienced that ebb and flow many times over the years. The hottest, the dirtiest, and the best sex happened for five straight years. I was age 45 and my husband 50 when it started. And you know what? Had we been the type just chasing excitement we would have missed it all. Who'd have thought sex with a fifty-year-old man who you'd seen naked for decades could be like rocket fuel poured on a match?
Someone once told me that when you're first in love, you think you know what love is. It's that excitement, that great sex, that romantic dinner by candlelight. Nah. That's great, that's wonderful, but it's romance. It just ain't love. Love is when you do spend time doing things you dislike simply because your partner enjoys them. You get your kicks watching their enjoyment. Love is holding back your partner's hair while they puke in the toilet, so sick they can't even say "Thank you." Love is sitting at the table and deciding together which bills you WON'T pay this month because there isn't enough money—and not fighting about it. Or, fighting about it, but feeling secure doing so because you know it's only because of stress, not because the other person isn't who you thought they were after all.
She's right. It's all that. But, for me personally, I have other definitions. Love is when your partner spends an entire summer—all three months—only sitting on the deck watching birds with you, because you're too wiped out from radiation therapy to do anything else. Not one other thing. And watching you suffer the burns from treatment, wishing it could be them. Watching you slowly increase your energy, knowing it will take months, but never once acting bored or impatient. My husband did that for me. If I had ever in my life questioned his love for me, this brought the reality of it home in spades.
Love can be watching your partner make a total ass of themself in the middle of a mid-life crisis, hurting you immeasurably until you wonder if anything will be left of either of you. Standing by, swallowing the hurt, and waiting for them to regain sanity, all because you know it isn't really them. It's chemistry, it's mental illness, it's many things...but you know that person well enough to know that down the line they will wake up and realize who they really are after all. When they do, you'll be there waiting. Greyer, more lines, your heart fractured but still beating. The mending takes a long time, but as it mends you become even closer. Only you know if your partner is worth it. They prove their worth in the years put in and how they've treated you in the past. Some aren't worth it. If they aren't, you should've cut the cords long ago. I'm not telling anyone to play a fool. I am saying people make mistakes. Good people. People worth loving, worth believing in, worth waiting for.
And, finally, love is watching your partner crumble and shrink when the company they've worked for over decades is taken over and they are reduced from a lead position to one that is humbling, to say the least. Hours cut, wages reduced, all benefits taken away, reduced to almost entry level, simply because it's cheaper to do so—and the new owners have to be able to keep driving their expensive cars. Your partner is left barely standing, almost ashamed to come home at the end of the day. For days. For weeks. Perhaps for the rest of their working years. Which may be a lot more, since money—which used to be abundant—is now so scarce you both wonder if you will have to sell your home. If you'll be destitue when old. Love? You stand firm and tell your partner to hold their head up. What they are at work isn't who they are. You tell them you're proud of them and love them more than ever. And you can see they don't believe you. So you keep on saying it until they finally do. At first a little bit. Hopefully more as time goes on.
Love is realizing that some dreams come true, but many don't. And if you really love someone, it's the realization that some won't come true that drive it home. They'll still make your heart beat faster. They're still the one who rides the white horse. They're still the one you want to spend the rest of time with. They just have become human over time. And, isn't that what we all want? To be accepted for what we are?
We want to be loved and looked up to, even if you and your partner both end up as greeters at your local discount store at age eighty.
Love? Don't tell me you know all about it, young 'uns. You don't have a clue yet. But if you're courageous enough, ballsy enough, believe in the other person enough, you'll learn. The lessons aren;t for the faint-hearted. Because let me tell you: you ain't seen nothin' yet.
If you truly love, if you stick it out, someoday your "Valentine" will look like mine (and like my husband's does). Wrinkled. Faded. Creases and tears. Rumpled. Slightly out of style. Yet, to you that "Valentine" is the most precious thing in the world. The only question is how someone like you ever deserved such a rare gift.
I'll end by saying "Happy Valentine's Day to my husband, Dave. Had we known the joy and sorrows awaiting us would we have done it anyway? My answer is a solid 'Hell, yes.' So many dreams achieved, so many failed. But one thing has always been certain. I was blessed with deep, true love. I can make it through anything life has to throw at us, but I couldn't have been even remotely as happy had my journey not been with you. You are my forever love. My valentine. Thank you for allowing me to also be yours."
Caddy Rowland is a novelist and painter. Her social media links follow.
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