I was positive I knew what love was, that hot July day when I was 20. It was devotion and longing, and commitment and desire and excitement and overwhelming joy that hurt in a good way. It was "for better or for worse" though we glossed over the "worse" part because who really wants to think about that or acknowledge its existence on their wedding day? Our relationship had never been easy and we had fought for it and knew we'd continue to fight for it no matter what. Because that's what love did, we said triumphantly.
I stood on top of a mountain, watching him cast a line into a pristine lake. Living together only 2 months, and my heart seemed like it couldn't get any bigger. Love surrounded me, enveloped me, was everywhere, and I thought I knew what love looked like. But my picture was still so small.
Life was awesome and difficult and babies came and home burned down and jobs came then were lost and home built and another home lost. Two people, joined together so very young, had to find themselves and figure out who they were, both individually and together. It was messy and scary and bewildering. When I was wandering, he waited for me; when he was angry, I stood my ground; when I was lost, he found me; when he was despairing, I held him up. We constantly showed each other how we saw one another, how we believed in each other even when we couldn't believe in ourselves. Hope left for a while, in the nitty-gritty of life between diaper changes and paychecks and spiritual wanderings. Life turned into daily survival and love, as mixed-up and incomplete as it was, still held on and held together. Dreams came and died; hard decisions made; time kept marching on and life kept happening. Hope came back and we started to dream again, to plan, to go down paths we never thought of traveling. To take each others' hands and say "walk with me, I want you near". When others couldn't handle our journey and rejection hit hard, we banded together, us against the world.
Now I am 30 and while I think I can say I know what love looks like, I'm also mature enough now to know what I don't know and what might yet come in our love-journey. I think love looks like daily mundane tasks, small simple gestures, the getting up and the working and the going to bed together day in and day out, the rowdy adventures and the sitting quietly in the backyard after dark and kids asleep, breathtaking desire, the bravery of both saying and accepting difficult things, honesty, trust lost and regained again, celebration of each other as autonomous people who have chosen to walk together, acceptance and support, authenticity, rest and satisfaction in the knowledge of seeing and being seen and adored for who we truly are. And a decade passes, just like that.
There is something so terrifying about letting someone in to see every part of you that no one else has ever seen. To give another person the freedom to wound you in ways that no one else could possibly do. To be trusted with such things by another and know you have the ability to utterly destroy them just by being an imperfect human. Vulnerability given and received. Broken and rebuilt. Over and over again. Scars in the open, nothing hidden, nothing too ugly that it cannot be redeemed. I think this is sometimes what love looks like.
I recently stood on another mountain-top, looking over vast beauty indescribable. We are not the same two people, this man and I, as those two people who confidently said "I do" ten years ago. We feel to have lived a lifetime in only a decade. Taking his hand, he smiles down at me then turns back to watch the small versions of us running through the wildflowers, shrieking with laughter and discovery. Physical representations of our love; pieces of our hearts walking about outside our bodies, slaying us, reminding us, keeping us young while making us old at the same time. My heart swells with love and joy, having been enlarged by sorrow and pain and joy these past years. He laughs at something a child says, then grips my hand tighter. I am still undone when he smiles at me, like I am 17 all over again.
People ask me how to accomplish a successful long-term relationship and I'm not sure how to answer; I am just a baby compared to some who would have better answers after several decades of loving another person. I can tell our story, but it's our story and not a How-To list for marriage. It's quirky and messy and wonderful and maddening and it's ours. We are asked how to keep the "spark" alive, how we can be so obviously in love still, and we look at each other unsure. Did we just get lucky, or is there something to the idea that love nurtured grows instead of dies? That two good-willed people who respect and love and support can fall in love over and over again, years without end. Maybe the answer is a little bit of all of those and more.
~To the man that won my girlish heart years ago, my soul-mate, my best friend still. Thank you for sharing life with me. The next 10 years will be the best yet.