Twenty-eight years ago in Asheville, North Carolina, a woman with flowers in her hair married a man with so much love in his heart, he couldn’t keep it to himself. Only four months prior, they went hiking for their very first date and that man wrapped his arms around that woman – and she just knew.
Two years later, they had me.
I don’t know the first time I realized that my parents were in love. Sure, they had fights like everyone else, but what I remember the most from my childhood is seeing my father leave notes by the coffee maker in the mornings before he went to work. Or my mom leaving notes in his fireman gear – complete with a lipstick print to seal the message. My dad almost always had fresh flowers for my mom (a dozen for her, and a single rose for me because I was jealous). They would dance in our living room after dinner and when I was off in never-never land, playing make believe, I could hear the laughter of their beautiful reality from the living room.
While I’ve never doubted that my parents loved each other, I’ve also witnessed just how hard marriage can be. Through sickness and in health, when times are hard and when they’re good, with youth and then with age, with distance apart and too much time together, with a full house and then an empty one. It’s because of my mom and dad that I believe in both the magic of love and the difficulty of it – it’s not always romantic and idealistic, it’s also, well, work.
But at the end of the day, they pick each other.
Again and again, over and over, because they meant what they said at that altar. And though the NYC foodie in me is rolling her eyes that for their anniversary they’re going to Red Lobster and eating a chocolate cake (the first one my dad has ever made in his life) afterwards, I secretly think it’s actually kind of adorable.
So, this one is for you, Captain Tigar and first mate Kim. Thank you for teaching me to not settle for anything less than a match that’s as perfect, crazy and wonderful for me, as you are for each other. You’re the reason I’m able to write about love with such sincere hope in my words, and I will be very lucky to have a love like yours.
Here’s what you’ve taught me about love, marriage and all that jazz:
1- Love starts as a feeling and grows into a choice you make every single day.
2- Love isn’t about your wedding day, it’s about your marriage. (My parents’ wedding cost about $500, my mom’s — very, vey 80s — wedding dress was only $40… and they’re photos were $50 – and I treasure them so much.)
3- Couples who have adventures together, stay together. (Even if the adventure is remodeling a house, painting a deck or having themed-dinner nights at home…)
4- Never go to bed without saying “I love you.” You can go to bed angrier than a rattlesnake (as my mom would say) but make sure you (grudgingly) say those three little words before you do.
5- Perfection is for sissies. It’s the hard times in your marriage that make you so thankful for the really amazing times. If it was always perfect, you’d take it for granted.
6- Remind each other. That you love one another. That they’re a wonderful person, father, mother, employee, boss lady, dancer, bruncher, maker-of-the-best-spicy-chicken-ever…
7- You only have to put one foot in front of other. You might roll out of bed and hate the person you’re laying next to, but tomorrow you might think they’re spectacular. Take it one day at a time, one step after the other.
8- Always stay friends… with benefits. Your spouse should be your very best friend, your favorite companion, and yes, the love of your life. But don’t marry someone you wouldn’t want to be friends with if you were so wildly attracted to them.
9- Your marriage comes first. Even before your children. Because without taking time to nurture your love, it will wither like anything else that needs sun to flourish.
10- Take time apart. For the majority of their marriage, my dad was gone three-days a week for 24-hours. Though that’s not typical, because they were separated, they got to miss one another and look forward to when they were together again.
11- Be a united front. I could never win at the “go talk to your mother, go talk to your father” game because they were almost always on the exact same page about raising me. As I grew up, I realized they made a pretty solid team (even if I never got that pony that I really wanted. Hpmh.)
12- You got to keep that flame burning. (I can’t really type anything more on this because eww, my parents!)
13- Give one another space to grow. I’ve never believed there’s an “ideal” time to get married – you just get married when you meet the person you want to share your life with, regardless if it’s 20, 30 or 45 when you find them. Whenever you do, realize they’re not going to always be who they are right now and make sure they have space to change. And that they give you some room, too.
14- Forgive quickly. It’s normal (and healthy!) to fight with your spouse, but holding grudges is elementary.
15- Don’t take gender roles seriously. In my family, my dad always cooked and both of my parents worked. If my mom wanted (and could have afforded) to stay home, that would have been cool too. Or if my dad wanted to. You have to let each other do what you’re good at and not force one another into stereotypes.
16- Support one another. My dad is notorious for picking up hobbies, becoming obsessed with them, and moving on to something else. Even so, when he picks up a new-something-or-another, my mom is there cheering for him, whatever it is. And he returns the favor for her as she has moved from accounting to astrology to real estate to…
17- Marry someone who makes you laugh. Even if both of you are laughing at something no one else finds funny. Actually — especially if both of you are laughing at something no one else finds funny.
18- Dream together. When I was ten, my parents bought this run-down lake house that they’ve refinished for the last 15 years into a gorgeous home. It was their dream to have a second place and together, they achieved it. (And I’m insanely jealous of their ‘We’re just drinking margaritas on the porch in the sun, honey, how’s work?’ text messages…)
19- You can’t change the other person, but you can love them. Sure, my dad has made my mom a little braver and my mom has given my NJ-raised dad a Southern accents, but they’re still themselves. If you don’t like who someone is when you marry them, you won’t like who they are five or 28 years later either.
20- There will be sickness and there will be health. My dad has had lots of health issues the past ten years, resulting in my mom taking on a lot more responsibility than she used to have. Though it definitely hasn’t been easy for her, when I ask her how she gets through it, she just says: “He’d do it for me if it was the other way around.”
21- Everything is going to sag one day. It’s okay. Just more skin to cuddle.
22- Develop good couple friendships. My parents have always had couple friends that they go on double-dates with or vacation together. And now, that all of us kids have flown the coop – they’re having even more fun together.
23- You are an example to your children. Take it seriously.
24- Let them surprise you. Even if it’s just with a chocolate cake.
25- Don’t parent them. Sure, you want to take care of one another, but that doesn’t mean you baby them. You’re partners and lovers and friends, but not parent and child.
26- Admit when your wrong. And sometimes, even if you’re right, for the sake of peace and love and making up, just say you’re sorry. It’s easier that way.
27- It won’t always be equal. Someone will do more housework, someone will do more with the kids, someone will spend more money, someone will make more money. It’s not always going to be 50/50, but that’s what keeps it interesting.
28- Kiss every single day. No matter what.
This Valentine’s Day, write a self-love letter to yourself and it’ll be published (anonymous or not) on Confessions of a Love Addict! And you enter yourself to win a prize pack of beauty products and a Home Goods gift card! Learn more here. Submit here.