When Chad and I fell in love, it was the most life-changing, heart-stopping, breath-taking experience I had ever had. I enjoyed every minute of the long-distance sighing, the love letters, the thousands of emails, and the short amazing visits when he had saved enough money to drive home from Nashville to visit me at college. Everything about it was beautiful and romantic and I was the center of it all, totally adored, completely wrapped up in this really awesome kid’s incredible affection for me.
When I say kid, I mean that quite literally. When we were married, I was 21 years old. He was 24. We were totally living on dreams and promises that we wouldn’t let the world ruin all of our idealistic notions of what it’s like to be married.
But, that darn world. The pesky thing called real life! Man, those two just wouldn’t leave us alone. We had to go to work. We had to pay bills. We had to spend at least eight hours of every day with our co-workers when all we really wanted to do was sit around and hold hands like we had during his whirlwind visits.
He was a night owl. I was a morning person. It turned out he actually needed some time to himself during most days. It so happened that in this new normal I wasn’t the center of his every waking thought. We actually argued. A lot. We discovered lots of little annoying habits. We tried desperately to somehow translate our dating relationship into a marriage that was fun and light-hearted and passionate and fulfilling.
And, we figured things out. We learned how to balance our relationship with that mean old real world. And we were happy.
But, I kept falling into a trap. I just couldn’t stop thinking about those romantic dating years. I couldn’t quit yearning for “that Chad”–the one who wrote poems for me and made me handmade gifts and wrote lovely letters. The one who was obsessed with making sure that I was going to stick with him and marry him. The one who loved me so, so much.
So, I spent years failing to appreciate what was right in front of me because in my mind Dating Chad had loved me so deeply. In my foolishness, I was allowing Chad to lose a contest with himself!
It took time for me to understand that I was looking back on what was a FORM of love. Yes, Chad did love me when we were dating, very much. But, it was an untested love. It was an immature, naïve, and idealistic love. It was a love that had not yet met all of my annoying habits. It was a love that hadn’t cried with me over lost babies or taken care of me when I was violently ill. It was a love that hadn’t seen me gain a few pounds. It was a love between two children. It was real. But, it wasn’t REALLY TRUE LOVE.
True love endures when things get ugly. It lasts through the conflict, the heartbreak, the moves, the babies. It holds your hand when it’s time to push. It cheers you on when you’re trying something scary. It learns with you. It grows with you.
I finally figured out that the Chad I really wanted wasn’t the heartsick poet. It was the strong man who endured so much just to stick by my side. The superior Chad was the daddy, the patient friend, the provider, the spiritual giant.
The truth is that the boy I was holding onto in my heart was just a shadow of the man that I had standing right in front of me. What a shame that I spent so much time trying to wish him back into a lesser version of himself. All because I liked feeling like the center of his universe.
I’m a slow learner. But, by the time many of our friends were beginning to divorce, I had figured out that the real hero of my life wasn’t a gushing letter-writing romantic kid. It was the hard-working, courageous, honest, thoughtful, creative soul that had attached himself to me for the rest of his days. I’m so glad we tied that knot. I loved the kid, and I love the man. But, the man is the real love of my life. Tested, found true and trustworthy.
I’d say that’s pretty romantic.