“She said they’d been together 40 years and he was the love of her life,” my wife said, recounting a conversation she’d had earlier that day. “She said she didn’t know what she’d do without him.”
“Uh, huh,” I said.
After a few seconds, I noticed the silence and looked up. My wife was staring at me, and not the kind of stare that says, “This guy is the love of my life,” but rather something akin to, “Who is this bozo anyway?”
She continued, “Then I told her that I want to strangle my husband a few times a day.”
“Just a few times, I asked?” smiling.
“Sometimes more,” she said.
I’ve heard these sentiments before from my wife, from time to time, and so decided to address the matter as best I could.
“Listen,” I said. “It was easy to be lovey dovey before we got married and it was easy to do it right after, but now we are in the whirlwind. We’re in the foxhole and all the bombs are going off around us. Right now, we’ve got two little ones who NEED us a lot. We’re both working full time and we both have to fight for a few moments to ourselves. I guarantee you that in 40 years we’ll be calling each other the love of our lives. I bet this lady wanted to strangle her husband 40 years ago, she just forgot about it.”
As I reflected on our conversation later, I realized how deeply I believed my argument. Love, as I see it, is not a priori, love does not come first — there is no love at first sight, though of course, there are other feelings. Love is the result. Love is the apotheosis of admiration. And why do we admire? It is a feeling saved for those who impress us in some way, usually with their generosity, kindness, selflessness and sacrifice. They reveal these qualities in their actions towards us or others, and up spring feelings of love.
Now, where in the world can you better see what someone is made of than in the aforementioned foxhole? Why do we think all those reality couples who “fall in love” on all-expenses-paid trips to tropical islands with 5-star dinners don’t stay together? Because when the camera lights go off and they’re on their own dimes, everyone gets a lot less charming.
And there is little time for charm in the foxhole of raising a family, building a career, caring for older relatives, and trying to keep a dozen other plates spinning at the same time.
But, as we all know, being in the foxhole together has its long-term advantages — they didn’t call the show “Band of Brothers” for nothing. In very few other environments can such a strong bond be built as can be achieved struggling through the rearing of children together.
Have you ever been at weddings where they call couples up to dance, first who’ve been together 50 years, then 40, etc.? At the first call — those who’ve been together the longest — one or two couples walk slowly (or even hobble) out, put their arms gently around each other and sway from side to side as if rocked by a gentle breeze. And in that rocking there is something very special, something that says, without fanfare and hyperbole, “You are the love of my life.”
And I bet for most — perhaps for me and my wife if we’re lucky — there’s a twinkle in their eyes that says, “And I still want to strangle you a few times a day.”
And do you know what? That’s ok.