I recently read a post by Thoughts on Theatre (Fear of Love) about people having to work at love. She talks about how it takes practice, study, perhaps some element of fearlessness and skill. You have to be willing, unafraid of it. I won’t argue, but I don’t think love is enough. (So as I wrote the post about how important it is to learn how to live with another person, I realized that the living-together part only worked out because of the love. Go figure. But it gave me a chance to talk about my hero. Please read on; I hope it all makes sense.)
Some other things might need more study than love, if a relationship is to last. I’m a risk-taker in some respects, and a little too willing to make a commitment, sometimes. I am willing to accept my early failures in love. I’m on my third marriage, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Did I study love in the first two? No. I studied human nature, the cycle of abuse, money mismanagement, and the art of arguing. Did these lessons prepare me for a successful third marriage? Absolutely. These lessons taught me how to live with another person who is different. It taught me a lot about being flexible and not to accept abuse (which was never an issue with my current husband, because I chose more carefully…). It’s difficult, and I had a lot to learn to get right.
A few years ago, a young lawyer asked
me about being in love. He thought it was like a light switch; you either were in love or not. I explained that love is a sliding scale. Friendship was a type of love, just not as far along the scale as a partner. As a relationship develops, the scale indicator can move. When is it high enough for the relationship you’re willing to have? He thought a sliding scale was silly. He was too young and inexperienced to argue with, so I smiled and let it go.
He also wanted to know what my husband does to impress me. I think he wanted tips to impress his hoped-for girlfriend, and he imagined hot tubs and chocolates — or that sort of thing. He was shocked by my answer. My husband is an absolute hero because he would clean up the mess when my kids from a previous marriage threw up in the middle of the night. There were no words like “they’re your kids, you clean it up.” He didn’t pretend to be asleep. He stepped up to the plate and did what was difficult to do. I’d comfort the child, change their jammies, and see to their needs going forward. He cleaned up. Not only that, he would impress me at other times with washing dishes and scooping the litter box. He’s a hero to me, and I can’t tell you how attractive it is to see a man share the grunt-work of life. There’s no sports event or video game that takes over his life while I do all the shit-work. (Thank you husband #1 for making me absolutely detest sports, although it was really his reaction to sports that was the problem.)
My young friend again thought I was funny,
and I’m pretty sure he didn’t understand. He had yet to learn that there’s more to a relationship than romance. I can love a lot of people. Although you don’t marry everyone you love, but you should love everyone you marry. The hardest part in a relationship is learning to live together. Dividing the chores, earning/spending money, and having the courage to be authentic in the bedroom are harder to work through than some of the emotions of love. Who’s willing to do the dirty work? Who’s willing to stand tall and raise children that he didn’t father? My husband never complained that he was supporting someone else’s children. I wasn’t getting child support, and he didn’t care; he just stepped up to do what needed to be done. That’s how you know it’s real love; when you are willing to make sacrifices for each other and your life together. He always tells me that “love is a verb.” He’s right.
And yet, there can be the occasional disagreement.
My husband has taught me that the relationship is more important than being right. This was a hard one to learn, but it was liberating. Now when I have a disagreement with my husband, children, or friends, I think less about being right and more about preserving our relationship. I have learned how to apologize, even when I thought I was right – because I was only right from my perspective and not theirs. And really, the most important thing is our relationship. Am I willing to throw away a friendship because I am too opinionated to see another perspective? Too proud to apologize? Not anymore. If an apology helps make things right, then that’s what I should do. It gets easier with practice and beats losing a worthwhile friendship forever. That’s also being Love as a Verb. Given my West Texas upbringing (see a previous post, I Apologize, it wasn’t really something I learned until I was an adult. I have a lot of regrets about that, but at least I finally caught on.