Some people imagine love as two individuals merging beneath a romantic sunset, amidst candies and flowers and the ka-boom! of fireworks exploding.
When I think about love, the first thing that comes to my mind is my husband Alan and me having yet another argument at the breakfast table.
During a recent sparring match, we paused to get up from the table to dump our dishes in the sink and then came back to continue the debate. Only this time, I sat down in Alan’s usual chair – and he settled into mine.
And suddenly I got the idea that, now that I was sitting in Alan’s chair, I was going to argue just like Alan. I pursed my lips disapprovingly, and gave him the same look of complete incomprehension that he often gives me. Like he is very sorry to have to tell me that my opinions do no stand up to logical or scientific scrutiny.
He, in turn, seated in my chair, channeled me: apparently what that looked like was a very snooty turning-up-of-one’s-nose at the utter pedestrian quality of his opinions and his complete lack of imagination.
We did such an excellent job of impersonating each other that we both burst out laughing.
Alan and I have known each other since we were freshmen in high school back on the East Coast. In between that time and my mid-40s, I fell for any number of men just like the impersonation Alan did of me: creative, self-important, with a certain scorn for other less imaginative types. The beginnings were always exciting and gratifying—we had so much in common! But as time went on and the relationships hit the inevitable bumps in the road of life, they never lasted. Despite our many similarities, each of these men and I ultimately discovered that, when the going got tough, those similarities weren’t enough to keep us together.
I will often shake my head in disbelief at the seemingly rigid thought processes of doctors; meanwhile, Alan will announce, after sitting through another emotion-filled poetry podcast that I have suggested, “I do not understand you at all.”
And yet, he has listened to me read aloud, at least four times, the entire 224-page draft of the novel I am working on. And he has paid enough attention to each of these marathon readings to make helpful comments. He promised my mother that we would adopt her cat (despite the fact that he is allergic to cats) and sat with her as she was dying, reassuring her and quietly being with her. At home in our neighborhood, he walks around the block with me holding my hand, and when we are apart, says “I really miss you!” and hugs me for a long time when he returns. He tells me, “You looked great on that last run!” when we are skiing, even though I know I probably did not. He can be persuaded to join me in an afternoon nap. And he wakes up on most mornings ready for another debate on some topic about which we will have completely opposing views.
What it has taken me a long time to learn about love is that it isn’t about “being the same,” or looking at things the same way. Love is present, and is nurtured, in the encouragement we offer and in the curiosity we show to our beloved. Love is the space we create for the other person to be who they are even when that person may be frustrating or incomprehensible to us. And if you are fortunate enough to experience this form of grace from someone who loves you, you as the beloved find you naturally work harder to be the best version of yourself.
In the beginning, falling in love can feel like the fusion of two beings, that ecstatic “we are one-ness!” But in the long run, there is always a part of each of us that is alone, and unknowable even to ourselves. Who will stand beside you in this fragile, mysterious, and brief human life? Who will walk with you, asking again what you think, knowing full well that he (or she) may never understand the answer—but asking all the same?
“There’s a pale moon out on the water
There is lightning flashing in the sky
There will be no rest on this journey
Will you walk with me ‘til I die?”
– “Will You Walk With Me,” Anne & Pete Sibley
Published in the Summit Daily News February 14, 2020
Photo by Giang Vu