February 14. We all know what day that is. If you have a significant other and you’re don’t, it’s likely you’re dead man/woman walking. For my husband and me, Valentine’s Day has double significance. We also celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary this year. Naturally, I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned about the institution of marriage and romantic love (I don’t have to explain why these two go hand-in-hand, do I?) First let me lay the groundwork.
Tim and I married three months after we met. Our paths collided in November in a van full of journalists on their way from El Paso to the Mexican Food Capital of the World cook-off in Tucson. I was thirty, he was twenty-six. In December, he proposed. In February, we tied the knot.
I like to read; he doesn’t. He loves action movies and silly slapstick comedies. I’m all about deep meaning and romance in my movies. He listens to oldy moldy classic rock n’ roll while I prefer country music. He’s a social butterfly-type extrovert while I could never leave the house and be perfectly happy. He likes our home spotless. I’ll stumble and fall over the mess before I notice it. He loves a good steak. I was a vegetarian for seven years. In other words, it’s difficult to find anything we have in common. Except 29 years of marriage, two children, two grandchildren, and two cats.
So why does it work? Why does our relationship endure when so many crash and burn? I don’t claim to have the answer for others, but I can make the following observations:
- The most important words spoken in our marriage may not be I love you or I’m sorry (although they rank extremely high). The most important words may be “Yes, dear.”
“Kelly, you left crumbs all over the cabinet again.”
“Kelly, you folded the towels the wrong way.”
“Kelly, the junk drawer is a mess. There’s too much stuff in it.”
In other words, I’ve learned to let things go. Not to argue the little stuff. I’ve learned not to jump down his throat every time his OCD kicks in. He learns to trudge by (eyes closed perhaps) when my office—the first thing you see when you enter our house—reaches catastrophic proportions on the scale of messiness.
- He makes me laugh. From the first day I met him. He’s funny. Of all his good qualities, I may value this one the most. Laughter will get you through just about anything and in our case, it has.
- He can’t stay mad at me. He’s tried. He decides he’s not going to speak to me and then every time he walks through the living room to get a beverage from the kitchen, he says, “If I were speaking to you, I’d tell you . . .” He gets mad and he gets over it. Coming from a long line of grudge holders, I deeply value this quality in him.
- We may be married, but we’re not joined at the hip. Extrovert that he is, Tim likes to hang out with friends, both male and female, and shoot pool or play dominoes or listen to a band. I have no problem with this. I have my writing group and my books and imaginary characters to whom I need to speak. The bottom line is we trust each other. That doesn’t mean I don’t get jealous. But jealousy tells me I love him, not that I don’t trust him.
- Tim’s language of love (remember the five languages of love?) is doing chores, fixing things, making life easier for me. When I had my back surgery, he found the grippers so I can pick up things without bending over, and the sock helper, and now, two years later, sliding shelves for the cabinets, and a stool that rolls, then retracts its wheels when I sit on it. He takes care of my computer, fixes the toilet plopper, gets the knots out of the gold chain, and installs new ceiling fans. And it all means he loves me just as much as if he’d given me flowers or said the words (which he has and does).
- Above all else, he takes his vows seriously. This seems to the most critical element. The vows mean something not taken lightly. “In sickness and health” has taken him from romantic partner to caregiver in the last few years. More so with the cancer diagnosis. He never flinches. Whatever it takes, he’s willing to give. With his heart surgery, I learned firsthand how hard that can be. I appreciate his efforts even more on this two-way street.
Ultimately what where it lands. Two people willing to stay the course even when they irritate each other or especially when they irritate each other. Like my parents who’ve been married a total of sixty-one years (another story and not mine to tell) and Tim’s parents who have been married fifty-six years. Or my sister and her husband who recently celebrated forty years.
It’s not about romance, although there’s been plenty of that. I don’t know why it works sometimes and others, it doesn’t. Regardless, I’m deeply grateful that I have been blessed with this man for all these years.
This love letter is my gift to you, Tim, this Valentine’s Day. I wouldn’t change a thing about you or our life together. I promise not to laugh when you straighten the junk drawer. Love always.