Tomorrow will be my 7th Valentine’s Day with my partner. On our first Valentine’s Day together, we found ourselves in the seasonal aisle of CVS. With an arm flourish worthy of a toddler in a beauty pageant, she declared, “please, don’t ever buy me any of this crap.” There have been many small moments when I knew she was The One but this one definitely stands out.
Intimacy isn’t about physical closeness; it’s emotional closeness. It’s finishing each other’s sentences, it’s inside jokes, it’s asking if a brownie has nuts in it before your partner even think to. It’s knowing you’re in the same phrase, in the same sentence, in the same paragraph, on the same page. It’s knowing someone inside and out. And, perhaps, even more challenging, more exacting — more crucial to a relationship — letting someone else know you inside and out. To me, love looks like these little moments of knowing and being known.
One of our favorite singer-songwriters, Chris Trapper has a relatively new song out. When he sings it in concert, he prefaces it by saying he wrote it because there are many songs about falling in love but not nearly as many about staying in love. Even country music which thrives on documenting the endless struggle that is being alive, has more to say about falling in love than staying in love.1
Love looks like more than physical attraction.
Maybe you watch the news. Maybe you’ve seen that we’ve gotten a bit of snow. It’s gone beyond inconvenient to wreaking emotional havoc on many people. My partner is one of them and she’s one of the lucky ones; her employer has declared at least four paid snow days and provides a generous amount of paid time off allowing her to take a couple extra days. Still, we’ve each broken down in different ways.
This is our so far week: Wednesday night, she called from the passenger seat of our friend’s car on her way home just as I was feeling way in over my head with the dinner I was making and all the stuff I hadn’t gotten done yet. First, she said my name a few times, each time I responded with more volume. Then she hung up because she couldn’t hear me. Then she called again. When I picked up the phone, I led off with: “I am in a crap mood so don’t give me a hard time about anything when you get home, especially when dinner will be ready. I just can’t take it” She asked me to make sure the car was pulled all the way up in the driveway so that when she and our friend arrived home, there’d be room to park. I needed an extra thing to do like Boston needs more snow and I told her off, that she could damn well move the car herself. Well, that didn’t make any friends but I was just worn all the way down without reserves to be nice to anyone.
Thursday morning, I woke up with a pounding headache, dreading having to get up to drive her to the overcrowded bus station. She woke up early, spent an hour and a half to do all the dishes from that dinner, and then walked herself 3/4 mile in a slushy street to wait about an hour at that overcrowded bus station so I could sleep. Thursday night, I offered to drive her the whole whopping 5 miles to work to spare her the horrible state of affairs that is our public transit infrastructure right now if we woke up a bit earlier than usual.
The commute this morning stole every ounce of her patience and thensome. A front-end loader blocked a major artery to clear snow during rush hour, cars took up the whole lane and wouldn’t move over, people walked in the middle of the street, cars double-parked and blocked traffic, cars at traffic lights drove on with no space ahead of them only to gridlock the intersection. Fortunately, there were no garbage trucks out. Halfway there she said, “I think the snow has really gotten to me; I can’t take another week of this.” Then an ad for a burger joint came on the radio and she quietly mumbled, “I really want a burger.” I’d wager she didn’t even know I heard her.
Many years back, during a particularly awful fight with an ex, I was mad because my ex had been especially jerky, taking things out on me for no good reason and I drove off to my parents’ house get away. When I got there, my mom gave me some advice that has really stuck with me: people need love most when they deserve it the least. It’s not a good system but often when my partner is acting like an asshole, it’s a good cue that she needs some love. It’s a real skill, one we both work on constantly, to stop and recognize that moment and react to hostility with love rather than defensiveness.
Love looks like bringing pie to a fight.
My grandmother’s most well-known piece of relationship advice was this: you can’t keep score in love. Love isn’t: I’m making dinner because you did the dishes, I’m shoveling the driveway because you you cleaned the bathroom, I’m watching the kids tonight because you did it last week. Love is: what do you need? how can I help? how can we make things easier for each other? A good first step is telling each other what we need. Maybe we need zero drugstore chocolates or animatronic hot pink teddy bears but we do need a well-written love note. Maybe we need a burger.
Love looks like braving pre-storm grocery crowds to buy ingredients for a burgers ‘n fries dinner even though we already had plenty of food at home. Love looks like someone buying you the ingredients for burgers ‘n fries even though you weren’t exactly pleasant company in the car, even though you asked quietly. Love looks like taking care of each other.
1And not for nothing, falling in love is pretty easy. Science has proven that new love has a chemical impact on the brain akin to some of the most powerful, illegal drugs.