Yesterday, my husband and I celebrated our 9th anniversary. Naturally, the occasion had me thinking about love.
My husband (who I will henceforth refer to as “Lancelot,” due to his understated chivalry, unwavering integrity and giant heart) and I have made quite a life for ourselves in nine years. However, it hasn’t all been sunshine and daisies. There have been plenty of storm clouds and dandelions, too. As strange as it may sound, the dandelion-moments are the ones I treasure most.
What I want more than anything in the world is to be loved unconditionally. I want to be loved in good times and in bad, and to be accepted even when I’m at my worst. Surely that is what true love is all about, right? That’s definitely what fairy tales, literature and pop culture would have us to believe.
I grew up listening to songs like Faith Hill’s “Take Me as I Am,” and I have belted the lyrics out at the top of my lungs as a sort of battle cry. Yes! I want “… someone with a strong heart / a gentle hand / who will take me as I am.”
I don’t think I was the only girl of my generation who watched “Bridget Jones’ Diary” and pumped my fist in the air when Mr. Darcy told Bridget he liked her just as she is. A frumpy, disheveled, average-looking, moderately successful, socially awkward, chain-smoking, slightly alcoholic girl. Mr. Darcy actually said, “I like you. Just as you are.” Oh, how I rejoiced when he spoke that phrase! How I wanted that for myself!
If I want it for myself, isn’t the only logical solution to give that unconditional love away in return?
That’s not necessarily how marriage is viewed in America, though. When I got married, I was initiated into a secret society that I had thus far in life not realized existed. Once I said, “I do,” I became a married woman, and I could suddenly bond with millions of women who understood what it was like to be a wife. This club had all sorts of ideas about how I was to act and how I was to treat my husband.
Suddenly, I had women telling me how to train my husband. Apparently, this is what women were expected to do after they got married. Their men were supposed to be domesticated, and it was the women’s job to do just so. How else was he going to learn to make it home for dinner on time, or put the toilet seat down, if I didn’t train him to do so properly?
Surely you’ve heard it, too. “Oh, you’ve sure trained him well!” says one woman to another as they see their husband clean the dishes after dinner. I really hate that word, “train.” It conjures up images of an obedient little lap dog doing its master’s bidding. Is that what I want in a husband?
Many people have seen and loved the off-Broadway musical titled “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change!” It’s wildly popular. Just hearing the title makes people laugh out loud because it is infinitely relatable. We fall in love, we think the object of our affection is perfect, and the second they commit to us we try to mold them and shape them into our own idea of perfection.
How is that love?
Lancelot isn’t perfect. There are things that he does that drive me absolutely up a wall. There are things that I do that drive him insane, too. There are certainly times that I say, “I just wish that he would …” or, “I really want him to be more like …” or, “I would be so much happier if he would only …” I think that’s human nature. I also think it’s terribly unfair and it contradicts everything I would like for myself in a marriage.
If I want to be loved unconditionally, the only fair thing to do is to love unconditionally in return.
I don’t have to like everything that Lancelot does. Undoubtedly, if he were to ever cross the line and start behaving abusively or disrespectfully in a way that harms me in any way, the only right thing to do would be to say good-bye and part ways. I’m certainly not encouraging anyone to put up with terrible behavior just because they have a ring on their finger. However, for the majority of us who happen to married to humans, I’m encouraging us to stop trying to change our spouses or partners into something we think we would like and instead accept them for who they are, warts and all.
Can we stop trying to train and control and change our partners? Let’s find a way to live together amicably and make compromises so we have a peaceful home life, sure! But let’s not fundamentally try to change the people we chose to make a life together with. Let’s not belittle, judge and criticize until they do what we want them to, or believe what we want them to believe, or say what we want them to say. Let’s be honest and compassionate, and most of all accepting of the people they are. I know that Lancelot deserves that, and I haven’t always given it to him. I can do better.
I can’t demand, hope or wish to be treated in a way that I’m not willing to treat other people. So I have only one choice, and that is to give Lancelot the type of love that I want to receive myself. I don’t pretend that this is an easy thing to do in practice, but most things that are worthwhile take a bit of effort. I can’t think of a person more deserving of love than my husband, or a person more qualified to give it to him than me.
Let’s take our partners as they are. Let’s love them for their uniqueness. Let’s make them understand that to us, they are better than good enough. Maybe, in turn, they will take us for who we are, too.