It was 2 a.m. and I was staring into my lukewarm cup of coffee, holding the handle of the beige diner mug and fidgeting so that the milky brown liquid inside sloshed counterclockwise. I had that sinking feeling in my stomach. My boyfriend David sat across from me silently. I did not want to have this conversation.
But I also knew that to avoid this conversation would just be kicking the can down the road. I was going to have to tell him sometime about my fears.
“I’m afraid that in the future if I marry you I’ll wake up one day and find myself feeling lonely even though I’m with you. I’m afraid that you don’t really understand me,” I told him.
I could see that it hurt him for me to say that. But I wanted to be honest and I didn’t know what else to say.
Someone told me once that love should be “effortless.” But is it really? Our love certainly was not. We had the strong foundation of friendship and shared interests and beliefs. We could talk for hours and loved being together. But it still was not easy to be in a relationship. We had to have those awkward and difficult conversations about fears, jealousy, trust. We had to work to understand each other.
Not even in the fairytales is love effortless: there is some dragon to be slayed, demon to be vanquished, or evil stepmother to endure. And love is no fairytale. It consists not of one ultimate and heroic triumph, but of numerous small ones, fought daily and repeatedly.
This past weekend I was at a wedding. The matron of honor, before raising her sparkling glass for a toast, read a quote that compared love not to a fairytale, but to farming. To farm is to work hard each day, for many days, and to endure some seasons without any produce, trusting that the work will pay off during harvest time.
After the wedding David and I—now in our sixth year of marriage—drove through the rolling hills and farmland of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, passing the occasional Amish buggy clipping along at a horse’s pace. Yes, marriage was more like farming, I thought to myself. The difficulties we worked through in our early years together were like seeds planted that have since grown our relationship into a good thing.
For example, that 2 a.m. conversation at the diner became an opportunity for David and I to grow closer together and learn more about each other. I was afraid that David and I had natural personality differences that kept us from really “clicking.” And of course bringing that up made David feel a little threatened and scared that I would break up with him. It could have led to an argument and a breakup. But instead of letting that fear make him withdraw, David asked me, “How can I learn to understand you better?” I told him how he could listen and empathize with me and how I wanted to hear him talk about his feelings, because that made me feel closer to him and helped me to learn to understand him, too.
And that was the start of a series of conversations that allowed good to come out of a situation that did not at first seem good. Those conversations were not fun or romantic. They were tedious and often frustrating. But having those conversations was like planting seeds that grew into the deeper understanding and love that we now share. David’s question to me in the first conversation expressed his willingness to work together to learn to love each other better, and that helped ease my fears.
We now are the kind of couple that can often finish each other’s sentences and even know what the other is thinking without speaking words. But that didn’t just happen. Love is not so much found, as made.