Photo credit: Diane Markley
Today is my third wedding anniversary. Of course, it never entered my mind until I received a text from my husband, who is working away, wishing me a happy anniversary. “You’re such a dude,” he says when I miscalculated the years we’ve been together and married. We laughed about this in that way you laugh via technology, but it’s completely true. I am the dude in this relationship.
As a young girl, I wrote romantic prose and read poetry and believed in “happily ever after.” I believed in Prince Charming and white picket fences and soul mates. I’m not sure where I picked up these ideals. Perhaps Snow White and Cinderella had something to do with it. I was, after all, the generation to cut my teeth on Walt Disney films.
Growing through my teens and twenties, I became less trusting. I thought each betrayal or rejection had something to do with my being intrinsically unlovable. I began to look at love through a filter, a very steely filter. “Sap is for suckers,” I would say to myself. The more sentimental a thing, the less I trusted it. Soon, I found myself listing toward the analytical and logical when it came to potential suitors, each one being subjected to a checklist in my head rather than a feeling in my heart. My brain was now the more trustworthy organ. Like a muscle that atrophies from being unused, I eventually lost access to my heart. I could no longer feel that gooey-ness we all come to believe is love.
There is a scene from the 1987 romantic comedy, Moonstruck, that speaks to me. Loretta (Cher) wakes up beside Ronny (Nicolas Cage) and realizes she’s made a terrible mistake. After all, she’s engaged to be married to his brother. She says she still intends to marry Johnny and that they are both going to take this secret to their graves. Ronny says he can’t do that and when she asks why not, Ronny declares, “Because I’m in love with you.” Loretta pauses, slaps Ronny across the face, twice, and yells, “Snap out of it!”
Cher became my hero in that scene.
Of course, by the end of the movie, Ronny was able to win her over. “Love don’t make things nice,” he says to her. “It ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die.”
And this, THIS, is what Walt Disney forgot to tell me. That, at times, love is messy and hard and imperfect. That the people we love don’t always get it right, nor do we. That love isn’t just about butterflies and violins playing in the background. It isn’t about a man choosing, and thereby completing, a woman. It definitely isn’t about Happily Ever After…at least not the way Walt Disney portrayed it.
Rather, love is moments of happiness and opportunities for tenderness. Love is lessons in compassion. It’s sacrifices and give and take. Sometimes, it’s steely silence followed by eventual softening. It’s granting do-overs. It’s forgiveness and, yes, even forgetting when necessary. Love is, I am discovering at 50 years old and three years into this marriage, a verb. It’s extending yourself, giving of yourself, paying attention, listening. It’s communicating. It’s partnering. Love is all of these actions, and many more, knitted together in a shared life. It isn’t one, misunderstood state of being that conjures up birds and butterflies and lilies in a field on a warm sunny day, although you can certainly experience those things with the one that you love.
Love as a verb is a muscle well-exercised. And we all know that the more you use a muscle, the stronger it grows. The more it is stretched, the more flexible it becomes. So while the Hallmark channel movies still give my husband the warm fuzzies (something he wishes I would stop broadcasting), I no longer feel left out when I don’t melt under their magic. I’ve rediscovered the concept of human love, real love, and I know that picture-perfect, sappy dramas are not it. Despite believing that my heart had been inaccessible, I realize it was, in fact, learning, growing and maturing into this new understanding.
Sorry, Walt. I still believe sap is for suckers. Love is for the strong who are willing to put in the effort. Love is a verb.