The first time I said, “I love you,” the words felt foreign on my lips.
Eric had just asked me to marry him while we were standing on the overlook of Yellow Rock Trail at sunset. Candles flickered in Mason jars and my shirt clung to my skin in the sticky July air as I clung to the man putting a ring on my finger.
Even as I said those words, the moment felt surreal. While I had known for several months that I loved Eric, we had decided to wait to say that phrase until we were engaged. Of course, he had come up with other sneaky ways of expressing his affection for me. We must have watched the Princess Bride together (I don’t quite remember), but at some point he started responding to me with the phrase As you wish.
As we started planning a wedding and saying those words more often, it almost felt like some sort of made-up language. I knew that love was more than a strong attraction or a sexual desire. I was pretty sure part of love was the promise to stick by each other no matter what, but for as often as I said it, I didn’t fully grasp what it meant.
After five years of marriage–which has included job losses, single income seasons, support raising, two house purchases, rotten jobs, moving to a new city, and infertility–I now more confidently know what love is.
I might venture to say that even after just the past year, my understanding of love has deepened. We know that love is patient, kind, and unselfish. It is not proud or rude or a competitive scorekeeper. But what does that look like played out in everyday life?
As I looked across the table at Eric last night over dinner, my heart melted. It’s been seven years since we first met, and I still find him so handsome and attractive. However, the sensation under my skin was prompted by more than just his appearance. I had this rare instant of a flooding back of all that we have been through together over the past year. The test results, the interviews, the decision to move, the house selling and house hunting and house buying, the new friends, the doctor appointments, the financial uncertainty, the adjusting to newness–it all combined into this deep exhale in recognition of the life we have made together.
And, in that moment, I knew that our love for each other is stronger than it has ever been, because we now know how to love not just in a mental and emotional state, but as a way of life.
Love is choosing to listen and encourage, even when the complaining words coming out of someone’s mouth are the exact same words they have been saying for the past three weeks–or months.
Love is allowing yourself to be a mess in front of someone else, finding that they, too, are a mess; there’s no pressure to get it together and get over it.
Love is the ability to simply know what someone is thinking in a moment, because you have walked through pain together often enough to know each others’ triggers and hurts and needs.
Love is choosing to ask the questions that you know will be answered with what you don’t want to hear, but asking them anyway because the other person needs to feel known.
Love is holding hands and not phones, making the conscious decision to take a break from the influence of the world and focus on the person in front of you.
Love is being willing to walk away from something you treasure because you treasure that person more than your own personal gain.
Love is recognizing that despite the uncertainty of the future, you are certain about who you want by your side.
I’m not going to lie, the past year has been difficult for Eric and I individually. It has been exhausting for our marriage. But it has also been sweet as we have continued to grow together; trials and challenges have been the glue that cements us together. And as much as my understanding of love has grown in these early years of marriage, I am confident I will know it even more deeply in another five years.