February 14, 2011
What is the relationship between saying the words “I love you” and the actions you take?
My computer is giving serious signals that it will crash at any moment. So I am writing quickly, saving frequently, and have already put in an order for a new hard drive to be installed Tuesday.
In the meantime, I want to write a story for Valentine’s Day that, for me, illustrates what it means to love someone.
Here’s the story.
About two-and-a-half years ago, a woman who had previously worked for me part-time called to say she desperately needed a place to live and asked if I knew someone from whom she could rent a room. Although she had fibromyalgia and worked as hard as she could as a salesperson, she couldn’t afford much. Nevertheless, she expected a raise and promotion in about three months.
I knew we would be compatible and asked my husband if she could stay with us rent-free to give her a chance to save a little. I knew he wasn’t keen on the idea, but he agreed and she moved in.
What with one thing and another, the promotion didn’t come through and she didn’t move out for 14 months. I knew she was trying to get a better job, so my husband and I allowed extensions, knowing she wasn’t going to stay here forever.
Nevertheless, I could see he wasn’t happy about the adjustments he needed to make, like giving up his bathroom. Then, about a week before she finally left, he said he was counting the days until he could get his bathroom back. As we were talking about the fact that she had stayed longer than we expected, he acknowledged that he really hadn’t wanted her to move in in the first place. So I asked, “Then why did you say she could move in?”
He replied simply, “Because you wanted her to come and I love you.”
His answer is part of the reason we have been married more than fifty years. He doesn’t buy me fancy jewelry. He doesn’t share my spiritual beliefs. He doesn’t read what I write. He isn’t enthusiastic about many of the things I enjoy doing. And I am still waiting for him to finish several things on his to-do list.
However, I don’t have a need for expensive jewelry. I can share my beliefs with others. If people buy my books, I don’t need my husband to read them. And while I can possibly get him to go to one movie a year with me, usually a children’s movie with the grandchildren, yesterday I was very happy to take myself to “The King’s Speech” while he went on a ten-mile hike, which is at least ten times farther than I can go.
All-in-all I think we accommodate one another in many ways and that’s what it means to me when we say “I love you.” And while I would say that we don’t experience ourselves as “soul-mates,” we are definitely “sole-mates.”
Our marriage is, like many marriages of long duration, complex. But it works in large part because we try to live our “I love you” as well as say it. We don’t need to exchange fancy gifts on Valentine’s Day — today I’m giving him chocolate chip cookies I baked from a package of store-bought dough and tonight will give him the same card I gave him last year. We will say “I love you” and know that it is true for both of us.
One last note about my friend’s stay at our house. She had fibromyalgia, which Half a year after she moved out, she married and soon discovered she had metastasized cancer. She died a year later. I feel so grateful to my husband for going the extra mile and giving her a place where she could gather strength for the difficult months ahead, although of course, we didn’t know that at the time.
May there be someone in your life whose “I love you” means the willingness to do what needs to be done for a relationship to flourish. And may you do the same thing for him or her.
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