The day my husband and I met at a charity event in southern California, I was wearing my ex-boyfriend’s Navy sweats. He is a former Marine. If not for these two facts, we may never have spoken that fateful day.
It was lust at first sight because, hot damn, was he handsome and sexy as f*ck.
Our first date was a running date with my best friend chaperoning on her roller blades. They worked together and had known each other for a while now, so it wasn’t as weird as it sounds.
We clicked. We laughed a ton when we were together and were both always up for a little adventure, although his adventure threshold was much higher than mine. I fell head over heels in love. We married just over two years after meeting.
And I was completely in love with him. I loved his zest for life. I loved his rough exterior and gentle interior. I could not get enough of his laughter and how he made me full-belly laugh.
I melted watching him become a father twice over the next four years and how he embraced that role so completely. I would sit and observe him with our boys, whether sitting on the floor building Legos for hours, teaching them to ride a bicycle, or having a dance party in the family room, the love and adoration he felt for his sons was written all over his face.
I loved him for who he was. But, I also loved him for who I wanted him to be—the man I was attempting to change him into. Someone who was a little less rough around the edges. Who was more expressive. Who wanted to sit and have long, deep discussions while also wanting to vacuum and do the dishes. Who asked me more questions and really listened to my responses. Who was more emotionally available and willing to be vulnerable with me.
However, as I was pushing him to change, I was not doing the same myself. I was not pushing myself to grow as a person. To be more open and vulnerable but not in such a way as to try and make him feel guilty for not being the same. I was not learning to be more gentle with his heart and mind. I was not realizing that it wasn’t solely his responsibility to see that we evolved and grew together as friends, lovers, parents.
Rather, I was certain I knew what was best for him and us and I attempted to drag him along the path I had laid out instead of talking with him about the direction he wanted us to go.
My behavior—unyielding certainty that I knew what was best and could, or rather, desperately believed I was the only one who not only could but needed to control everything—nearly led to the end of our marriage. What was once tacit denial around the dire situation of our relationship became an unavoidable reckoning. The word “divorce” was thrown out far more often than I like to remember. At one point, I did believe it was over.
That was six years ago, and here we still are. It was a long, exhausting, alternately hopeful and hopeless journey, filled with heartache for us both, hurtful words, sleepless nights.
But, we persevered, clinging to each other, our past, our future, our desires, our love. And, you know what happened?
I fell in love with my husband.
Only, it was different this time. After over two decades of doing life together, with its endless hills and valleys, joys and sorrows, learnings and unlearnings, I fell in love again, differently. It was a deeper, more mature love that I think is the inevitable byproduct of the pain and struggle, uncertainty and fear, dedication and sometimes indescribable bliss that is building and living a life with another person.
As we struggled to salvage our marriage, I saw a different man than I met over 20 years ago. I saw a man who was filled with as much doubt and uncertainty as I was but who was simply able to hide it behind his bravado and dazzling smile.
I saw a man who loved deeply, and I had somehow missed this before because he simply expressed his love differently than I did, or than I wanted him to. And once I realized this, I felt his love for me in such an all-consuming way that it took my breath away.
I saw a man who gives more to others than he does himself and takes such joy in tiny moments of kindness that are just natural for him.
I saw a man who loves his sons desperately but expresses it in the way he jokes with them, asks them about their interests and passions, has always had an unwavering acceptance of them exactly as they are, and requires daily awkward hugs from both who are now taller than him.
I saw a man who was so unbearably patient and forgiving and understanding of this woman he met so many years ago, who wanted nothing more than to appear strong and capable on the outside, yet also needed to be able to collapse into his arms and admit she had no idea what she was doing and that she was afraid and needed to know she was okay.
In his loving gaze, I found my home. I knew I was exactly where I needed and wanted to be. I could truly see him in a new light. For the first, honest time, I saw his own vulnerability and pain. I saw his longing for a more meaningful relationship and loss as to how to achieve it. I felt his love and acceptance in ways I never had allowed myself to feel because I don’t know if I believed it actually existed—a doubt I had taken into so many relationships.
I was in awe of his patience and the slow, deep burn of his love for me. And, while saddened that it had taken so much time and pain, incredibly thankful that I had realized it before it was too late.
And I knew, with complete certainty, that I no longer wanted to change him. I simply wanted him. All of him, exactly as he was, and maybe had always been, only I hadn’t seen him standing in front of me for so many years because I was so focused on the him I had decided I could create. When he was there before me all along.
I try not to dwell on all the years I missed his love thinking that I could make him love me better, when it turns out, he knew exactly what he was doing all along.