I didn’t plan on meeting my future husband when I was a mere 14 years old (a baby!), but that’s what ended up happening. We met, fell in love, dated for a while, broke up, got back together … and well, 27 years later, we’ve been together ever since.
People ask me sometimes how I knew he was “the one.” It definitely didn’t happen right away. I knew I liked him a lot. I knew we had a ton in common and that talking to him and hanging out with him was easy and fun. I knew he was kindhearted, gentle, creative, and smart. I knew looking at him made my heart skip a beat.
But it was more than all of those things. Those things alone don’t make or sustain a relationship, especially one that spans nearly 3 decades. No, the thing that drew me in, little by little, over our first few years together, was the way he loved me.
I remember at the beginning of our relationship, when we were hanging out after school at play rehearsal. We had just started saying “I love you” to each other, and I was feeling insecure and uncomfortable. I felt the love, but saying it out loud scared me. It made me feel exposed and vulnerable.
Somehow, I managed to blurt out some gibberish, trying to explain the whole thing to him. And I can’t quite explain it, but the way he smiled at me knowingly – the way he didn’t question my feelings, my intentions, or my flustered state — made me feel at home. It made me feel as though my feelings – whatever they were – were okay.
It was a feeling of being wholly accepted for who you are — flaws, vulnerabilities and all. And it was a feeling I hadn’t always experienced before, not in that way, from some important grown-ups in my life. That feeling of being loved without any conditions, without having to prove something or apologize for who you were. A love that made me feel validated, seen and heard.
It was amazing to be loved that way. A revelation.
A few years later, I was going through some serious shit with my dad and stepmom. I was in California, across the country from my husband (then boyfriend), and I called him, totally out of sorts and frantic. I thought the words that were coming out must sound totally messed up – I wasn’t used to showing that level of desperation with him, but I desperately needed his support.
And yet, there it was again, this total acceptance of me, of my feelings, and of my sometimes troubled life.
Over the years, as I’ve battled a serious anxiety and panic disorder, my husband has often been one of the few people I share all the dirty details with. In fact, he has talked me down through more than one panic attack. I don’t think there is anyone else on earth I have confided in while I’m in the middle of a panic attack.
One of the most difficult aspects of having anxiety is how totally irrational and “crazy” some of your thoughts and feelings sound. But even though I have had reservations at times about sharing those things with him, it has always gone well. He has always been my soft place to land.
He never tries to “cure” me, fix me, make me someone I am not. He listens, he emphasizes, he reminds me of how strong I am. And he loves me, like that, without pretense, just the way I am.
I know that love – even the kind we have – isn’t the only quality that needs to exist for a relationship to stay strong. Life is hard. When you add things like kids and jobs and worries about money and the future and all those sorts of things to the mix, things can get dicey. Even just aging together and having new interests – new hopes and fears – can throw a wrench in things.
We have had our fair share of relationship challenges, some that have felt serious and very high stakes. But somehow, we’ve endured. And it isn’t just because of our long history with each other or the many memories and experiences we’ve shared. It isn’t just because of the two amazing kids we’ve created together or the way we still make each other belly laugh after all these years.
Those things matter too, but what matters most is that we are willing to love each other for who we are, no matter what that looks like. We don’t expect the other to fit some preconceived notion of who we’d like them to be, and we know that, in a way, really loving someone means giving them the freedom to be their own authentic self.
Let me tell you, once you find someone who loves you like that, you don’t let them go.