We sensationalize a love that isn’t real. It’s obsessive, possessive, and like a strike of lightning. As teenage girls, we daydreamed about Jack finding us on the Titanic and rescuing us from the boredom of suburbia before he disappeared into the ocean. We imagined if he’d only lived, he and Rose would’ve had grand adventures riding horses across America and making love under blankets of stars, as opposed to simply settling down and raising children. And, if we were diehard Leonardo DiCaprio fans, we also fell in love with him as Romeo, those pouty lips and blue eyes staring back at us from behind a massive fish tank. How misled we were to crave a love so intense it ended in mutual suicide.
In reality, that seemingly less-exciting outcome of domesticity is the love we didn’t know we’d someday want. We thought we’d be different. We thought we’d never live in a quiet neighborhood content with family life amidst a cluttered yard and messy house. We refused to think children’s toys would overtake our space and our joy would be so connected to simply having a family. Instead we saw ourselves in outwardly powerful roles, having globetrotting adventures with a passionate partner who also valued his freedom. Now we look back at what we thought we wanted and just feel tired imagining it, and then a pang of sadness hits us over what we never would’ve known.
Because, you don’t know the love children will bring into your life until they’ve already moved in with all their gear and toys. You don’t for a moment realize half the romance with your partner will become your shared depth of love for the people you created together. You’ll see it in the other person’s eyes and know exactly what they’re feeling even if you don’t always have time to stop and acknowledge it. Maybe all that romance from the early days will resurface again when your children have flown the nest, or at least you can hope, but for the years when you share your home with always-changing little people, love takes on a different form.
Instead of huge romantic gestures, it becomes the small things. The look on his face when you catch him wanting you. The dancing for and with each other when the kids aren’t looking and your favorite songs are playing loud. The lunches you make so he doesn’t have to. The dresses he buys you so you still feel pretty. His insistence on stopping you for a hug when everyone is trying to get out the door and you’re all late.
It’s the things you can miss if you aren’t looking. Time takes on a new texture and flies and creeps all at once. You’re both so busy with work and kids, you have to know each other’s love languages to survive. You have to learn that he stops to hold you because that’s his way of showing love, not because he knows you have a hard time being still when so much is going on. You’ll have to remind him you show love by doing — you prepare the meals and clean them to show him how much you care, not because you love your dated kitchen or are passive aggressively trying to become the martyr.
You’ll have to remember not to argue when you’re both tired and there’s still so much to do. You’ll have to know none of it’s a contest, even if sometimes you forget. You’re both doing a lot, all the time. And, you’ll give each other space alone to do the things you both care about even though you miss each other and the kids. You’ll know you both need these things to make it work. This is what lasting love will look like.
And that’s the thing you never knew all those years ago when you lusted after an intense, burning flame — real, sustaining love will be enough. You’ll still find the passion in the moments when you really need it. And you’ll know someday sooner than you’d really like: your kids will be bigger, and it will be easier to get away. You’ll develop a respect for seasons and see enough in this one to be willing to wait for that time alone. The trick is remembering to know each other, to take those dates and stay up together after the kids go to bed, so someday you won’t be strangers when they’re gone.
The other night my husband told me his favorite two hours of the day are the two we spend together when the kids are asleep. And, they’re my favorite, too. Not because I don’t enjoy the time I spend doing all those other things that fill a day, but because all those other things make those two hours matter even more to me than if we still spent our weekends lying together in bed for hours. Our kids make us appreciate each other in a new way. They make the little moments more important, as long as we remember those moments matter. This is the love story I always wanted, even if I didn’t imagine it quite this way all those years ago.