Remember that scene at the end of The Princess Diaries when Mia, played by a teenage Anne Hathaway, receives her first kiss from Michael, her friend-turned-crush? The stars twinkle, her gown shimmers, and the moment they kiss, her foot pops, just like she’s always dreamed. I used to sigh into my pillow at night thinking about how that was true love, and how unlikely I was to ever find it.
Oh, the woes of being 13.
Then, The Princess Diaries 2 came out and in one tidy narration, adorable Michael was explained away as nothing more than a fun fling as Mia followed her destiny overseas.
What seemed like the perfect example of love was ultimately two people driven by their own interests and desires. If that was true love, then my future was in serious trouble.
I’m not saying people who break-up are selfish monsters. Not in the slightest. My older brother once told me (amidst my own teenage grief after a breakup) that he didn’t view breakups as failures. “They’re just a way of finding out that person’s not the one you should marry,” he said. Smart.
So then how do I find out if someone is “the one?” I thought.
The most unlikely person provided the answer. It was my sophomore English teacher, a six foot five man who wore the same trousers, white button-up shirt and suspenders each day to class. He was as strict as he was smart and made students carry a toilet bowl ring as a hall pass to dissuade them from cutting class.
One day, between Latin root conjugations and English grammar, my teacher dove into a tangent about teenage dating and how skewed the world’s perception of true love has become.
“You know it’s really true love,” he said, “when you’re willing to wipe your spouse’s butt.”
He didn’t laugh. No one did. As our room full of pimply, hormonal, and now, mortified 16-year-olds stared at our teacher, he elaborated. I didn’t write it down since I fit that previous description, so I’ll paraphrase.
If you’re willing to stay with someone after he’s crippled, and even wipe his butt, then that’s real love. Not starry nights and foot-popping kisses. It comes down to the root of the relationship. It can’t just be a “me first” thing.
It’s like when my dad taught me to drive his pickup truck. When it was time to turn, he said I had to think about the back half of the truck as I steered the front. Sure enough, when I swung wide and steered the bed of the truck into a parking spot, the whole vehicle aligned just right.
So it is with love. (Yes, I really just used a truck metaphor to describe love…) When I started dating my husband, I asked myself if I wanted what was best for this man. I won’t say it just came easily. As we approached marriage, I looked at each decision, each day, and used that same thought process my dad used on our truck. Have I considered how this will help him grow to be the man God wants him to be?
I get how non-feminist this all sounds. But actually, it’s one of the most empowering experiences I’ve ever felt as a woman. You see, when you’re holding yourself to that standard of selfless love, as imperfect as it may be, you hold out until you find someone with the same caliber of commitment as you.
So it began with us nearly a decade ago.
When my husband compliments me on something I published or tells me what a great job I’m doing as a mom, I fly to the moon and back. My love tank fills up like those scream tanks after the little toddler bursts into laughter in Monsters, Inc. And as a result, it inspires me to reciprocate the act—to tell him how much I appreciate his hard work and how much I respect him.
And yeah, if he became paralyzed in an accident or experiences a severe stroke later in life, you can bet I’d be there to wipe my husband, to feed him, to take him wherever he wanted to go, and to make sure he knew, every day, that he is loved.
Call me a blind optimist, but I fully believe he’d do the same for me. I know it. And without the gross, descriptive visual, my kids know it too. I didn’t tell them the butt-wiping example yet out of some attempt to spare their fragile minds. No way. If I said something about wiping daddy’s bottom, they’d cackle every moment of the day and shout it out to every stranger they’d meet.
Nah. I’ll wait until they’re teenagers. Bring the mortification full circle, I say.