“Can we talk tonight?” read Amber’s email.
It was Tuesday, and two days earlier, during a walk in New York’s Central Park, I had confided to Amber my romantic interest in her. She agreed to let me take her on dates, and I was exhilarated. She had said something about how she was still getting over a past relationship, and that she wanted to take this slow, but the bottom line I took away from our conversation was that (a) she liked me enough to give me a chance, and (b) it was only a matter of time before I won her over.
So naturally, surveying my impressive accomplishment late that night in my apartment, I proceeded to christen our hours-old romance by writing Amber a letter, further declaring my great ardor and admiration for her—how she’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met, and other such modest statements.
We did meet at Starbucks for our Tuesday date, and it turns out that she wanted to talk about that letter. She proceeded to gently explain (again) that she appreciated the letter, but she really, you know, needed to take this relationship slow. (Slow. Adjective. “Moving or proceeding with or less than usual speed or velocity.” For instance, “a slow train.”)
Well, I totally understand where you’re coming from, I assured her, and I’ll give you all the time you need. No worries at all, I can be patient like that.
“Because,” I explained, my hand slowly reaching across the table to take hers, “getting to know you is like discovering another universe. It’s so awesome, and I’m just so in love with you!” (In love. Noun. “The state of experiencing an unusual degree of romantic fuzzy feelings for a person.” For instance, “He fell in love with her on Sunday, and by Wednesday he realized how foolish he had been.”)
But in a curious turn of events, the announcement that I was so in love with her actually sent her into a panic! She later confided to me that it was not the kind of slow and modest advance that she had had in mind. Of course, I knew that I was only telling her the obvious fact that I was in love with her—which couldn’t mean that much, since in my vocabulary to be “in love” meant that I was experiencing an hysterical overload of fuzzy feelings for her. But so what? I had experienced those fuzzy feelings before for other girls, and those feelings had disappeared. To me, my state of fuzzy feeling was an obvious fact, not a dramatic revelation. This stuff happens all the time, I reasoned. It’s what you do with the feelings of love that really matters. There’s a big difference between love and being in love, I had always thought. The question, in my mind, was whether my fuzzy-feeling love could mature into an authentic, full-blown lasting love.
Amber? She didn’t see it that way. I was way too intense for her.
Fast forward to about a year after our marriage. We were walking the fairgrounds, smelling the cotton candy and observing the teen couples making out on the Ferris wheel and otherwise demonstrating excessive public displays of affection.
“Remember when we were that in love?” I good-naturedly asked Amber.
Were in love? Amber froze, and shot me an icy look.
I pointed out that we no longer felt compelled to spend hours gazing at each other, and that while we still held hands, it didn’t have the same electricity that it did the first time we held hands. These are facts of life, I pointed out, but they don’t have to mean much. What mattered was that we were going deeper into love. For instance, if she became paralyzed the next day, I knew without a doubt that I would stand by her for the rest of her crippled life, come what may. We now had regular arguments—You never rinse the cups out! You expect me to do the dishes and pay the bills?—but our hearts and bodies always found each other again, usually by end of the day. (And by the way, it’s not like we had a sterile sex life—though we did argue about that too sometimes.) Our constant returning to each other was proof, I insisted, that we were experiencing the ripening of an authentic love, a deep friendship.
That’s not the message that Amber took away. To her, it sounded like I wasn’t willing to fight for our love anymore—that I was becoming content with an all-gumption, zero-affection marriage.
What if we fall out of love? What does love feel like after marriage?
Those are questions that pursued us before and after marriage. In retrospect, I see Amber’s point about fighting for our love—but I also think I had a good point. The story of our love is the story of us hashing out that discussion, and learning from each other—of taking that first declaration of love in Central Park and molding it into something sturdy and ever new and enduring.
It’s okay if we’re at the fairgrounds and we don’t feel compelled to make out with each other, like those teenagers behind the vendor stands. If we felt the urge to passionately kiss to the extent that we did when we were dating, I’d fear for the welfare of our children; we’d probably get arrested for child neglect. But it’s also not okay for me to grunt a feeble hello to Amber, retreat to the Internet, and let our love die a slow death. This is where date nights can be helpful, as Adam pointed out here.
Marital love, we are learning, invites us to experience a love that is more robust than the love portrayed in sappy chick flicks like Dirty Dancing, and more surprising than the miserable marriages portrayed in movies like Revolutionary Road. Love is so epic and ordinary that most movies can’t do it justice.
And did I mention that I won Amber’s heart? I totally understood this new universe.