A few years ago, a young man interning at my office went to lunch with another older woman and myself. It was an odd threesome, but I could see that he was trying to make the best of it. Seeing that we women had been married to our husbands for a reasonably long time, he asked us what our husbands do that keeps us loving them. His grin and sparkly eyes implied that he thought he was going to hear what they do in the bedroom; clearly, he was seeking out some performance tips.
I was up to the task! “When the kids throw up in the middle of the night, my husband cleans it up while I take care of the child. The smell of vomit makes me vomit, too, so it is a great help to the kids and me. And he very often pulls out the steam-cleaner and cleans the carpet before we go back to bed. He’s wonderful!” The intern was flabbergasted and a bit confused by my answer. “That’s it?” I shook my head. “He also washes the dishes.” The intern looked like he thought I was talking in code.
My coworker was similarly honest. “My husband cleans the litter box every week! He has done it our entire married life.” She has often portrayed her deep loyalty to her husband and their abiding love. They were married just a few years after Woodstock, so, he’s kept that up for many years. They have three cats, too; that’s a lot of litter box action. The intern looked a bit shocked.
Trying to salvage the situation, he asked us, “How do you know you are in love?” My answer was apparently not very helpful. I explained that with everyone, there is a love continuum. Your friends, relatives, companion animals, and lovers are on there, each at a different level of “love.” The question is how much love is enough to consider being “in love?” And then, for each person, there is love fluctuation depending upon the circumstances. There’s a minimum threshold, probably, but there’s a fluctuation based on events. Most long-term relationships have an ebb and flow. I don’t think he considered that an answer to his question since it didn’t mention attraction, sex, or whatever a young man in his 20’s thinks love is.
The intern thought it’s either “love” or “not love.” But after many years of marriage, I can say that I may always be in love with my husband, but there are times when the full spectrum of our continuum gets pegged. But if we’re at a low spot and he cleans up the kid barf or washes the dishes, I see his dedication to our relationship is real. Solid. And his place on my love continuum starts creeping up again.
By the end of the meal, the young intern looked confused and a bit disgusted. He wanted to think that love was about sexual prowess, which benefited him, more than doing chores that no one else wanted to do. And if someone’s love for him could fluctuate based on his actions, then maybe he’d need to put out some effort. Oh gosh, who knew it could be so hard? I’m not sure he’s figured it out yet. It’s been a good ten years since our lunch, and I’ve heard he’s still single. Well, at least my friend and I know that we gave the best advice we could.