It used to drive me bonkers. As newlyweds, unsolicited advice came from everywhere. People assumed that being married meant they were experts on marriage, and they were more than happy to lend their expertise. Almost all of it was unhelpful. There was, however, one exception.
We met them on our honeymoon. Looking back, the interaction feels oracular. As though they saw us and knew our future. We met them randomly while having a sunset cocktail. At the time, I thought they were a sad little old married couple with terribly depressing advice. Actually, I am not sure if it was advice or simply a statement.
Smiling sweetly at his wife of over 50 years, the man said to us, “I don’t care how much you think you love each other now; just wait. You will look back one day and realize you don’t love each other like you used to.” They then congratulated us and departed.
As they walked away, you chuckled and I asked, “What the hell kind of advice is that!?” We both agreed that it topped the list for odd and unhelpful marriage advice. At least that is what we thought at the time. In retrospect, I know it was more than advice. It was a beautifully true statement regarding the process of marriage. But we were young, wildly in love, and still newly married. We didn’t know that they were right. As time passed and life happened, I’ve come to realize that this was the most prophetic relationship statement anyone has ever given us.
Sitting here across the emergency room, looking at you holding our little boy, this conversation erupts into my memory. This week is the anniversary of our engagement, and I can’t help but reflect on the past decade. Watching you hold our sick boy, I finally get it now. His bowel is folded, and he is in pain. He has his head on your chest, and your arms are wrapped tightly around him. Listening to you quietly sing all the words to the theme of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse to him provides some levity to the situation.
If not for the IV and the hospital bed, one would never know we were in the ER. Cuddled up together waiting for the doctor, you both are so calm, so steady, so normal that it’s hard to believe our son is having a medical crisis. In this moment, I understand what the sweet old married couple was trying to tell us. I don’t love you like I used to.
But here’s the thing: I misunderstood. They never said “love each other less” or “not as much,” they said “like.” This little word holds big meaning and is the important part. Because two things can be nothing like each other and still each be amazing. I get that now. Love changes over time, because life changes and circumstances change. When you love someone for your whole life, your love inevitably adapts and changes or risks fading. This is exemplified by our last 16 years together. We have changed. Our love has changed. Our life circumstances have forced this change.
You should know that I love you just as much today as I did when we said our vows. But I do love you now for different reasons than I did then. Reasons I would never have predicted a decade ago, long before we had grown-up problems, sick babies, and stressful careers. Things that used to drive me bonkers are some of my favorite parts of you today, and things I used to find quirky and adorable are now, well, not.
As I watch you hug our child, both of you squished onto a stretcher, no change in how I love you is more obvious than how I feel about your cool, calm, logical demeanor. Oh my god, did it drive me nuts in our early years! I could have told you our house was on fire, and you would have quickly and calmly made a regression model in your head to determine the best exit strategy and what items to take with us. No emotion would be visible other than maybe a clenched jaw and a stiffness in your neck. If I came home and said, “We won the lottery!” you would smile and nod and say, “Hey, that’s great.” No jumping up and down, no screaming and shouting. No, those things would be left up to me. I’m the excitable one. The loud one. The giggly one. The emotional one. Actually, I’m the anything-I’m-feeling one. You never need to ask what I feel. It’s clear by looking at me.
I always wished that you would be more expressive. I’d always try to get you to be excited and let loose. But my efforts were futile. It’s not who you are. You are and always will be irritatingly cool, calm and collected. Now, I can’t even believe I ever found it frustrating. I’m not sure at what point in our 16 years together my feelings regarding this changed. But they did, and now this is one of my favorite things about you.
To be fair, it probably started sometime around the birth of our first child. I knew our child was sick and suffering, and I was terrified. While I was emotional, scared and going in circles, you were steady and compartmentalized. You took to medical journals and researched specialists. While I was busy trying not to freak out at abnormal test results, you were prepared, stoic and asking questions. You were not afraid to challenge the system and made sure the doctors left no stone unturned. When our little boys were screaming in pain and everyone around was frozen and unsure what to do, you quietly and calmly assessed the situation and knew what needed to be done. When I feel overwhelmed and on the verge of breaking down, you always seem to know how to calm me down and bring me back to center.
Now, as I try to collect myself from my walk around the ER, just how much I’ve come to rely on this quality in you could not be more apparent to me. I had to excuse myself so our little man wouldn’t see me cry. His physical pain and fear overwhelmed me. He could sense my emotion, and it was not helping him. But your calming presence pushed through your own fear and emotion. He could feel your energy, and it calmed him down, took away his fear and provided him peace.
While I used to wish you were more excitable, I’m now beyond thankful that you are not. You are the rock of our family, our stability, our calm center in the midst of a storm. I can’t believe I ever wished you were more like me. You provide balance to our hectic, wild, and stress-filled life.
Two kids with a rare disorder has changed us, or at the very least, has changed the way I see us. Changed how I see the world. Changed what I value and what I need. What has not changed is that I love you. I am so glad that you are who you are. I’m glad it’s me that you get to calm down.
I am looking forward to discovering more wonderful things about you that I never appreciated or noticed. Things I was too busy being annoyed by to see the value in. Things that may take days, years or decades for me to see and grow to love. But, by then, I know I probably won’t love you like I do now. Because then will be different. Our kids will be older. Our life will have evolved. By then I won’t love you like I used to, and I can’t wait.