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My daughter and I watched “The Princess Bride” recently—a rare girls’ night while her brother and dad were spending the night at a Boy Scout sleepover.
It’s an oft-quoted movie in our house, and she was eager to see where our enthusiastic one liners of, “You mock my pain!” and, “I knew he was bluffing” came from.
She smiled as she watched, taking in the romance, the humor, the adventure. She sighed happily at the end, as Westley and Buttercup ride off into the sunset together, and said, “I can’t wait until I have a love like that.”
I smiled and remarked about how very wonderful it is. I remember those young-girl days, dreaming about romance and soul mates and kisses that change your life. My mind wandered fondly to memories of my husband and I in high school, moon-eyed and crazy about each other.
“You know, Mom,” she went on, “if Buttercup and Westley were alive today, I bet Buttercup wouldn’t yell at Westley about his driving.”
Immediately, my darling high school memories were replaced with my husband, now 23 years older, and his blasted inability to stay in the middle of his lane.
I looked at my daughter and smiled. “You think Buttercup loves Westley more than I love Daddy?” I asked incredulously.
She shrugged and said, “I’m just saying…” before wandering into the kitchen for a drink. I laughed and threw a piece of popcorn at her.
That night I lay in bed and thought about what she’d said, about what love looks like to a nine-year-old girl on the brink of her own journey of self-discovery. About what dreams of love look like and about what actual love looks like.
When my husband and I first started dating in high school, he would clip the small “Love is…” cartoons out of our local newspaper and leave them in my locker between classes.
Love is…a lifetime of kisses.
Love is…turning his head.
Love is…sharing an umbrella.
Those cartoons boiled love down into a handful of syllables and simple promises. We were starry-eyed then, full of dreams and romantic notions of a lifetime filled with roses and love notes.
But here we stand, 23 years in, and I have to wonder if the love we grew into lived up to our teenage intentions and declarations. Given the chance, what would I tell my children about love?
Is the love Westley and Buttercup share what I really want for them?
For starters, love isn’t falling for someone who orders you around, making demands about polishing saddles and fetching water, no matter how attractive they are. Don’t fall in love with a bossy asshole is advice numero uno.
And on the other side, don’t fall in love with someone just because they love you.
The audience doesn’t learn much about young Westley, other than his unusual capacity to accept verbal abuse, but Buttercup definitely softens to him as soon as she realizes the underlying meaning of, “As you wish…”
As for their early reunion period, while I’d argue that Buttercup faithfully maintained her feelings for Westley, he was understandably miffed at her for the perceived betrayal of her engagement to the prince. I’d like to gently suggest to my daughter that love doesn’t sneak back into an ex’s life just to spy on and punish them.
Love, I’d like to tell her, is looking into the same deep brown eyes for 23 years and still melting. It’s talking to the same person for 23 years and still having things to say. It’s seeing the same smile for 23 years and still doing anything to see it again.
Love is…seeing past the façade of best behavior and seeing the imperfect, flawed human beneath.
Love is…choosing to try again. And again. And again. And continuing to choose to try again, even when you know you’re flawed and your partner is flawed and nothing will ever be perfect forever.
Love is…saying “yes” to the things that bring you partner joy. It’s hiking the Incan Trail when you’d rather be lounging on a beach.
Love is…carrying your exhausted partner’s backpack, even when you are also exhausted.
Love is…waiting a week to see who will scrub the cat vomit out of the basement carpet first, and then being the one to give in and do it. Love is smiling at the fact that your spouse is even more stubborn than you.
Love…is telling your partner the cancer won’t kill them, even when you yourself are terrified of that exact thing. Love is holding someone when they’re broken. Love is the seesaw of being strong when they’re weak and letting yourself be weak when they’re strong.
Love is…knowing when something is bothering your partner, even when they say it’s nothing, and love is insisting they tell you so that you can face it head on instead of pretending you don’t notice it. Love is choosing hard because easy doesn’t get you where you want to be.
Love is…understanding that relationships breathe, that there’s an ebb and a flow, peaks and valleys, ups and downs. Love is being okay with the low and trusting the high will come again.
Love is…leaving your partner’s car with a full tank of gas before you leave on a business trip. Love is smiling when your partner leaves on a business trip because sadness and resentment are slower acting than Iocane powder, but no less deadly a poison.
Love is…giving the business class upgrade to your partner while you sit back in coach with the kids.
Love is…foot rubs on the couch at the end of the day.
Love is…the ability to debate a topic for hours to make a long car trip pass by, heatedly taking counter positions, and then getting out of the car at the end and giving each other a big hug and kiss.
Love is…forgiveness. Love is showing up for someone, even when you’re hurt, and staying open to the work.
Love is…honesty. Love is being able to tell someone what they need to hear, or what you need to say, and knowing that it’s okay—even when you’re telling that person that their driving sucks.
I do wish for my daughter to have a Westley and Buttercup love—a love that sees no one else, a love that fights for its future—and I do wish for her to have kisses that leave all other kisses behind. But even more, I wish for her to have a “Mom and Dad” love, a love that has grown and evolved and been polished smooth by years of imperfection and laughter, tears and effort, honesty and adventure.
He’s no farm boy, but would I trade our love for a movie kind of love?