The longer that I have spent my life married — the longer, in fact, I have been committed in a unique love to one person — the more I realize how little I understood when I first started out. Nowhere is this more clear than in my “love vocabulary.” Even when the words have stayed the same, the meanings have forever changed for me. They are now informed by real experiences instead of just dreams and hopes and assumptions. Some of the glitter and bubble of love and romance is gone, but in its place is something as real, solid and comforting as a warm hug—which is worth much more than chocolates, roses, or even fancy dinners.
Here are a few of the words I’ve learned to redefine.
My former definition: A trait in someone who likes most of the same things I like, has similar ambitions and drive, and will “get me” no matter what mood I’m in.
My new definition: Someone who I can find the grace to forgive hundreds of times and who can find the grace to forgive me at least as many. Somebody I can fight with and still respect. Most importantly, someone whose commitment to our relationship I never doubt and who shares my deepest-held values and convictions.
My former definition: Getting hot and heavy while the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack plays. (What can I say? I am a cheesy romantic at heart.)
My new definition: Squeezing my husband’s hand, and then biting him (yeah, I did that) while trying to endure excruciating contractions in childbirth. Using his toothbrush for weeks by accident, and then finding out he knew, but figured it wasn’t a big deal (yeah, he did that). Being able to talk with him about my most closely held secrets and deepest fears without worrying that he would reject me.
My former definition: The emotions and powerful attraction you feel at the beginning of the relationship; the magnetic force that drives intimacy.
My current definition: A connection that improves with age like a fine wine. A force that you may not always feel is there on a weekday night, but one that should resurface often in happy ways. An attraction that needs to be nurtured with tenderness and creativity to keep it rich and alive.
My former definition: A frighteningly long time to contemplate spending with one person and really to commit to doing anything. A word that scares off a lot of guys and anyone nervous about commitment.
My new definition: A momentary gift for the two of us to enjoy, because no human “forever” really lasts that long. A lifetime made up of single days for us to treasure and redeem, and not ruin the present with anxiety about the future. A promise I made solemnly, and one I intend to keep.
I’m sure I’ll be adding more words as I get older and my marriage does, too. When I look back on my younger preconceptions of love (including my idea about how much the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack would be featured) I see the very beginning of understanding of something so rich and complex it takes a lifetime to grasp. I’m not that much further along on that journey of understanding now, but I’m looking forward to the journey.
I am excited to find out what I don’t know and learn how gritty and real and wonderful love can be.