(Photo by Sarah Dokowicz on Unsplash)
I’ve always been a hopeless romantic. I fall hard in love, fast and easy, and at any moment in time, I’m nursing at least a couple of crushes. But all those years ago, when I first laid eyes on him, it wasn’t the love I’d been used to.
My heart didn’t beat faster, my tummy didn’t flip flop, and I certainly didn’t feel lovestruck. Tall and broad, his almond eyes glinted with humor when he spotted me. He walked with long, easy strides and introduced himself. I talked, he talked, I laughed, and he looked at me. We conversed for a bit, stepping into each other’s worlds, and before long, I knew this wasn’t the love I’d expected.
I grew up in a culture where patriarchy wasn’t just prevalent but worshipped. Long mustaches, gruff voices, and overt machismo were the norm. Anger was considered a personality trait — a desirable one, too. And every so often brought up in conversations with an undertone of respect — “He has a nasty temper, but then which man doesn’t? She’s lucky to have him.” Anger was the gateway emotion to abuse of all sorts. So many boyfriends, husbands, fathers, and adult sons got away with hitting their wives, raging at their girlfriends, demeaning their children, and abusing their mothers. How else would they be considered real men?
Movies and mainstream media perpetuated these stereotypes as well. The protagonist was usually an “honorable” man who had to rescue or rehabilitate the damsel in distress through circumstances beyond his control. Said damsel was a simpering woman whose entire presence existed to further the protagonist’s journey. Most movies involved the hero espousing violence because the woman’s honor was at stake. Even the rom coms of the day had the male lead dispense heavy doses of casual sexism because heaven forbid they missed a chance to dump on women. And between countless songs with iffy lyrics, the protagonist evolved from a lovestruck boy to this strapping, virile man who was going to save the heroine, dammit!!
Now, if I’m being brutally honest, this sexist nonsense was internalized in me to some degree. Probably the same for most women my age. I believed true love should be chaotic, loud, and wild. And I wanted my potential husband to be this assertive man who would set the world on fire, just to see the flames dance in my eyes.
And then I met him. Tall, broad, and with those smiling eyes, he walked up and introduced himself. Over weeks and months, as we got to know each other, so much about him shocked me. He was nothing like the men of my childhood — them with their bitter voices and fragile egos. If the waitstaff messed up our lunch order at the restaurant, he would ever so politely ask for it to be fixed. And he made sure we tipped them extra. Arguments fizzled out before we got to the meaty part because he would open the discussion with an apology. He made me breakfasts and listened when I spoke, and not once did he make me feel lesser than him. He was in equal parts honest, gentle, respectful, and goofy. And with time, I learned what real men are made of — kindness, laughter, and quiet strength.
We will be celebrating our 16th anniversary this year — been parents for almost 11 of those. He’s welcomed our kids into the world, held me when I cried all night, and pushed me to seek help for postpartum depression. When my autistic son has panic attacks, I’ve seen him sit on the floor- hugging and calming him down. He teaches my daughter to laugh at herself and secretly hopes she will be a science nerd like himself. He parents, with so much respect and grace, it’s hard not to do the same.
When I met him for the first time, it wasn’t love. Tall and broad, his almond eyes glinting with humor, he walked over to me and introduced himself. I should have been nervous, excited even. But my heart didn’t beat faster, my tummy didn’t flip flop, and I certainly didn’t feel lovestruck.
Instead, all the crazy voices in my head got quiet. My breathing slowed down, the nerves melted away, and something deep inside my tummy uncoiled. I felt content in a way I’ve never been before — like slipping out of a tight dress and pulling on an old, favorite sweater. To my utter surprise, I looked up at him and said, “It’s you. It’s you, isn’t it?”
For a hopeless romantic like me, falling in love is easy. I’m nursing at least a couple of crushes at any given moment. But I’ve come to see that most love is nonsensical and overpriced. I have with my husband of 16 years — exactly what I need and precisely what it needs to be. His glinting almond eyes as he opens the door, those solid brown arms when they hold me close. Everything he does and everything he doesn’t show me we belong together.
Peter Gabriel once wrote:
The book of love is long and boring
And written very long ago
It’s full of flowers and heart-shaped boxes
And things we’re all too young to know
I love it when you give me things
You ought to give me wedding rings.
Dear husband? I’m so glad you gave me wedding rings.