“Just the other day, I told you that you looked pretty.”
This is one of the lines I frequently hear when I argue with my fiancé. He is kind. He is incredibly intelligent. He is a neuroscientist. He describes the world as it is, as it appears to him, with the most intentional accuracy. He also happens to be the least romantic person I’ve ever been with.
I am an English major. I value the power of each word to convey a message all on its own. Words like “pretty” don’t quite cut it when you could be of other-worldly beauty or carry yourself with the grace of the goddess Aphrodite herself. “Pretty” is a word I tell my students never to use in their writing. In the marathon of words, pretty doesn’t make it past the 5k mark.
So, when in the midst of arguing with my scientist fiancé about how I feel unappreciated yet again, his reminder that he did indeed refer to me as “pretty” just the other day doesn’t provide him the defense he thinks it does. Literature has taught me that plain words are for plain people. The word “pretty” cuts like a knife and reminds me that I am no Greek goddess, no celestial stunner. Recently, when this sneaking insult crossed his lips, the realization sunk in that he will never provide me with the great romance that Shakespeare gave to his leading ladies nor the desirous admiration John Donne professed in his poems. What I have is not romance, nor does it pretend to be.
It is something better.
When my fiancé tells me I am pretty, he is telling me in the most honest way he knows that my appearance appeals to him. But, love is not based in appearances. Our love comes to light when I show my flaws: insecurity, jealousy, anxiety. He sees each of these flaws when the situation rouses them about, and he accepts them and soothes them. He sees me with that same intentional accuracy with which he strives to see the world. And yet, without makeup, without a facade, he accepts me into his life without hesitation. He helps me to see myself and to understand myself. He observes me as one might take interest in a UFO or a never-before-seen creature. He learns about me and helps me define myself. He accepts gently and loves unselfishly.
With him, I will never hear the flowering metaphors I encourage my students to write. But my life is not a sonnet, and when choosing between a beautiful lie or reality, I pick the latter. I choose someone who will spend his time studying me, supporting me. And so I choose to hear the word “pretty” through new ears, softer ears, and instead listen to the purity of his intent.