Have you ever found yourself pining for the butterflies and excitement of the early days of your relationship? Those days where things were easy. The days each of you remembered to say overly sweet compliments, worked hard to be kind in your first argument, scraped and saved for a McDonald’s Dollar Menu date while in college. Those days were shiny and new and full of potential. But what about when potential has turned into normalcy?
You see, we live in a society that puts incredible emphasis on falling in love. It spotlights grand romantic gestures and the collective masses cheer for whatever ship is their current one true pair. Which, I’ll remind you, becomes a different true pairing within the month. Romance novels are built on the slow burn of new passion. Romantic comedies highlight the awkwardness of finding your lobster. Dramas focus on the all-consuming emotions of the first attraction and the fall out it causes. And all of them end with this idea that a happily ever after follows. All of them whisper through the credits that the love story is over and that falling in love was the important aspect of their relationship.
And then we wonder why divorce rates are high. Why it is common to feel unloved or unappreciated or malcontent in what began with hopes of a lifelong relationship. It’s the gentle tide that pulls you into the lie of an instant gratification society, and if all you want are the butterflies and to have those early days with someone else, well . . . there’s an app for that.
You’ve heard it time and time again: marriage is hard. It’s hard because it takes work. I must cultivate my relationship. I must work to remember that we were a dating couple before bills and careers and children and pets and chores took over our lives. I must set aside time to date my husband. To compliment. To chat. Heavens above, to flirt. I must work, and work hard, to keep our relationship alive. Because it is a living thing and it will die if it is neglected by either party.
The thing is, we must war against the culture that glorifies only the first few chapters and carves a void in the ebb and flow of a long-term relationship, searching for the joy that resonates within the everyday life while wondering where the Hollywood easy went.
My marriage is always a work in progress. Children and life make it so we frequently forget to abide together instead of just functioning in close proximity. But after we had a sweet, flirty conversation over text, it turned into a deep conversation about how much love we still have, how must trust we have built, and how safe the harbor of our marriage is in the storms of life. In that moment, I cried. There was never any doubt of my love for him or his for me, but when life gets in the way, butterflies fly away. And during that conversation butterflies revisited. We had glimmers of our early, young selves and it highlighted how much more we now have together—even without the adrenaline rushes of new love. And was a quiet promise that the years would continue to bring more.
Not everyone is blessed to have a safe harbor in their spouse, and not everyone can have it if they just work hard enough—I’m not naive enough to think that. But maybe I’m hopeful enough that this Valentine’s season we all will remember to write our own love stories instead of relying on the societal powers that be to dictate what it should look like.
Love hard and love deep. And love every day. Because falling in love was only the prologue. Staying in love is the story.