I’d grown up seeking a widely popular and yet entirely unattainable picture of relationship perfection, as I imagine so many of my generation do. The morning after our wedding as my new husband and I were leaving our bridal suite, I brushed passed the maid who took notice of the bouquet of semi-wilted flowers clutched in my hand and asked sweetly, “are you the bride?” I smiled and nodded.
She went on to say that she and her husband had been married for nearly forty years and that it was the most difficult thing she’d done in her life, besides raising her four children, but that it was worth every minute of the hard work they’d invested.
She gave me a quick hug and sent me on my way with her best wishes. High on dopamine from the previous night’s nuptials, my brief conversation with the soft spoken housekeeper seemed like a piece of trite advice I’d heard a million times in passing. Thanks lady, but we already had it figured out.
In my mind, being in love meant having a superfluous supply of butterflies, breezing through the days drunk on dopamine, and aside from the occasional disagreement, generally living life in a state of wedded bliss. What I have learned in the two and a half years since that morning is that the love that lasts, in all actuality, is frequently disguised as a much less sexy and much more intentional, sometimes exhausting, but always rewarding version.
I met my now husband through family (that’s a story for another day) and though I immediately thought he was cute, I had no plans of pursuing him or exploring its potential any further. I was twenty three, still reeling from a break up with my college sweetheart, and more interested in developing my young career and investing in friends and family than adding a new guy to the mix. Over the next few months, I ran into him here and there at some of my favorite local watering holes and restaurants.
Each time, we’d have a brief friendly conversation and part ways until one Sunday when I received a text asking to meet for drinks. Caught off guard, a little unsure, and already having plans for the afternoon, I politely declined. What I have come to now know and absolutely adore about the man that I married is that it takes much more than a “thanks but no thanks” to discourage him. And so the story goes.
The beginning of a good and healthy relationship exists in a microcosm. Inside this bubble is where you begin to navigate the new and exciting terrain of the young relationship. It’s a concentrated amount of uncertainty, anxiety, euphoria, and general anticipation where patience is limitless, forgiveness is easy, and the physical attraction is barely able to be contained. Exhilarated by this new found piece of our life, we mislabel it love, when really it’s just a good old case of infatuation.
So when I started dating my husband and these incredibly influential feelings began to matriculate, I remember thinking: this must be proof that it’s right and will last forever. Last forever being the key words there. Here’s the tricky thing about feelings that rom-coms and pop culture fail to include in their portrayals of love and marriage: emotions are fleeting, they are fluid and impermanent, they are easily influenced, and not always a stable navigation for behavior.
As a product of that pop culture, I’d been feeding on this irrevocably fictional picture of “true love” for, well, my entire life. The movie always ends just as the happy couple says “I do” as if that’s the grand finale. They’ve done it, they made it across the finish line, they’re married and everything is gravy from there. So when my husband and I wedded in a casual lakeside ceremony on a beautiful July night in upstate New York, I thought I knew what was coming next: buy a home, take some time to travel, have a baby or two, and so on, all while high on the infinite feelings of unfiltered happiness. Instead, we discovered the profound reality of what marriage entails.
We bought our beautiful home that we had been dreaming of, we traveled to some breathtaking destinations in the world, we added another sweet puppy to our family and in between those momentous occasions, we managed months of tight finances, battled a bout of mental illness, left jobs to start new and more demanding ones, and began our journey with infertility.
With each of these changing circumstances, we navigated the evolving dynamic of our married sex life, the shifting landscape of our communication, and balanced and supported one another’s emotions as best we could. The infatuation that had existed in that microcosm slowly progressed to something even more intimate, more stable, and more reliable. It permeated into every facet of our relationship. We began to dismiss that childish version of love, understanding that real love looked a lot less glamorous than Hollywood made it seem.
It is collaborating to tackle life’s most difficult moments. It is supporting the other’s choices and ideas that may scare you or leave you feeling uncertain. It is waking up every single morning and making the intentional decision to commit to loving your partner no matter how you feel that day. It is being mindful of your words and actions and the effect they have on your spouse. It is laying your head down every night next to a person you respect the hell out of. That is what a state of sustainable love looks like.
There is no shortage of lessons that being married affords you and even in our most difficult moments, I am deeply grateful for them. Without these moments, I have no doubt that I would have continued chasing a temporary state of infatuation, mistaking it for the real thing and later on finding ourselves struggling to keep our heads above water when things became ordinary, repetitive, and monotonous the way life has a tendency to be. We’re all born and raised under the false pretenses that we have an innate understanding of love and while I believe that every human is capable of it, I no longer operate under the arrogant assumption that we all naturally and seamlessly arrive at it.
And what a disservice it is to ourselves that we assume to, manifesting in the dissolution of marriages, the dysfunction between partners, and the jaded attitudes we take on after the feelings fade. As with most things in life, there is a learning curve to love and marriage that requires a kind of stamina and dedication that most other things do not. As the gentle hearted maid said to me that morning, it is the most worthwhile investment I’ve made in my life.