Iím a ridiculous, emotional, over-sentimental sap. I guess thatís why I told my wife I loved her on our second date. I had tried really hard up to that point to hold it back, honestly. I wanted to tell her on the first date, but I knew that would probably be weird. I still remember her reaction.
She kind of gave me this half-shy, half-amused smile. Then she nodded and looked off into the sky. I wasnít heartbroken by the response. I think part of me recognized that she was much smarter and more modest than me.
But as time has gone on, I also realized that she knew something that I didnít. Like most Hasidic Jews (we both became religious later in life), our dating period lasted a very short time.
After two months of dating, we were engaged. Three months after that, we were married. And that whole time I was swooning. This fire was burning in me, a fire that burned just like that second date: I was in love.
But then we got married, and everything changed. Marriage, quicker than I was ready for, did this thing: it started sucking away that emotion. I tried so hard to keep that fire going, to keep that emotion alight, but it got harder and harder. I mean, how you can feel that burning love when youíre sitting at the table discussing how to use the last twenty dollars in your bank account?
How can you feel it when you get into an argument? How can you feel it when you think it makes perfect sense to put your socks on the floor after youíre done with them, and she has this crazy idea that they need to go in the laundry basket? There was no way I could keep that dating fire burning as practicality invaded our lives. And at first, it drove me nuts.
That emotion meant love! That excitement was how I knew I cared for her! But suddenly, life was this grind. Even when I was with her. Especially when I was with her. And even worse, it seemed that the harder I tried to be sentimental and lovey-dovey, the less it was reciprocated.
But it wasnít that she wasnít giving me love, it just seemed to come at different times. Like, when I offered to do the dishes. Or make dinner after she had a hard day. Or, once we had a daughter, when I shared the responsibility of watching over her. I donít think I noticed this consciously for a while. It just kept happening. But I think it had an effect on me. Because as our marriage progressed, I found myself offering to help out around the house more and more.
And after each time, there would be this look she would give me. This look of absolute love. One that was soft and so beautiful. It took me longer than I care to admit to understand what was happening. But eventually it became clear. Through giving, through doing things for my wife, the emotion that I had been so desperately seeking naturally came about.
It wasnít something I could force, just something that would come about as a result of my giving. In other words, it was in the practicality that I found the love I was looking for. And what was even more interesting was that once I realized this on a conscious level, and started trying to find more opportunities to give, the more we both, almost intuitively, became lovey-dovey.
And now, as Iím a bit older and a bit more experienced with this relationship, Iíve finally come to realize something. Something I havenít wanted to admit for a long time, but is undeniable. I didnít love my wife on that second date. I didnít love her when we got engaged. I didnít even love her when we got married. Because love isnít an emotion.
That fire I felt, it was simply that: emotional fire. From the excitement of dating a woman I felt like I could marry. But it wasnít love. No, love isnít an emotion or even a noun. Itís a verb. Better defined as giving. As putting someone elseís needs above your own. Why wasnít I getting reciprocal lovey-doveyness when we were first married? Because it wasnít for her. It was for me.
An emotion I had in my chest. And even when I let it out of my chest, it wasnít love. Being sappy isnít love. Telling someone you love them doesnít mean that you do. And thatís why my wife just gave me that half-smile. She knew, even if I didnít, what love really is. And now that Iíve tried to change the way I look at love, the more I become shocked at the messages of love I had gotten when I was younger.
From Disney movies to my favorite shows like ďThe OfficeĒ to practically every pop song released, love is constantly sold as an emotion we have before weíre married. An emotion that, once had, somehow magically stays within a marriage forever. I canít imagine a bigger lie.
And Iím saddened to think about how much those messages bounced around in my head for so long. And how much Iím sure those messages are bouncing around in other peopleís heads as well. I think that might be a big part of the reason the divorce rate is so high in this country.
Imagine a whole nation of people constantly chasing the emotions they had when they were dating. A country of people trying to live a Disney movie. Thatís a recipe for disastrous marriages; for a country with a 50% divorce rate; for adultery (the classic attempt to turn the fire back on); for people who do stay together to simply live functional, loveless marriages.
Itís sad to see just how common all the above is. How many people are in pain simply because theyíve been lied to. Those people deserve better. We all deserve better. Itís time that we changed the conversation about love. Itís time that we redefine it. Because until we do, adultery will continue to be common. Loveless marriages. Divorce.
Living Disney movies in our minds, and tragedies in our lives.