On our first wedding anniversary, my 6-foot, 1-inch, bear of a husband, Charles, flashed me an impish grin and said, “I have a surprise for you.” He took me to an Italian bistro where he had prearranged for the chef to prepare our favorite, but hard to find, entree — beef Wellington.
To celebrate two years of marriage, Charles arranged for a florist to deliver fresh flowers to our home once a week for a year. For subsequent anniversaries he bought me thoughtful gifts: a pair of artsy, gold earrings from my favorite designer; a handbag that I craved but felt guilty buying for myself; a four-wheeled, carry-on suitcase for an upcoming trip.
Charles also delighted in showering me with cards. I’d wake up on Jan. 2, our anniversary, to find “Honey” scribbled on an oversized envelope on my nightstand. It professed “a love that reached depths no other man had ever traveled,” or some similar sentiment. I’d spot a second card, usually silly, perched on top of the bathroom sink. It would poke fun at his bad jokes, snoring or lack of help with the chores. A third card, this one from the dog, would be propped up against the Keurig in the kitchen. Relying on canine humor, it read, “I woof you,” or “you’re the wag in my tail.”
For my part, I spent hours in drugstore aisles searching for the card that best expressed my feelings for him. I tended to pick ones with words like “soul mate,” “blessed” and “forever.” Sometimes, I’d also buy him one from the dog.
This year, our 28th anniversary, when I awoke and turned toward the nightstand, it was bereft of any paper products. I moved around my glasses, clock radio and water bottle; I checked the floor — to no avail. There was not a card by the bathroom sink. Plopping a coffee pod in the machine I looked around. Nothing.
Finally, browsing through my morning emails, I found it: an e-card created by American Greetings, chosen by my husband. It read, “In these uncertain times it’s nice to pause and reflect on how lucky we are to have found each other.”
Do manifestations of love, like estrogen, wither with age?
Should I be hurt, angry or insulted — perhaps, a combination of all three?
Trying to make sense of things, I thought about the turbulence in our lives in the last few years: deaths, illnesses and the pandemic. And that’s when it hit me, how naive we had been. Those prior expressions of love — gifts, cards and dinners — were simply warm-up exercises. To show affection when it really counts takes a deep awareness, strength and wherewithal.
The greatest proclamation of love is the ability to perceive and prioritize the needs of your partner.
When my colon burst and I was septic, Charles sat at my bedside in the hospital every day, all day, for three weeks. That is love. When I couldn’t bear to look down at the colostomy bag, an aftereffect of my surgery, he said, without flinching, “I’ll deal with it.” That is love. When he buried me in his arms and we cried together over the deaths of my parents — that is love. And when I reach under the dinner table and squeeze his hand so tightly that my knuckles turn white, as he tells friends about his mother’s dementia, that is love.
It is not always grand gestures. It is refraining from shouting, “turn it down!” when the football game blasts through the house. It’s bringing each other coffee with the right accouterments — cream and Splenda in his; Sweet & Low in mine. It’s responding to under-the-cover advances, even when you’re exhausted or watching the latest episode of “And Just Like That.” And it’s helping your partner cope with cabin fever by bundling up in a scarf and down coat to eat dinner together outside in 40-degree weather.
On this anniversary, I too neglected to buy a card or gift for my husband. I gave him a generic one from the box I keep in my desk.
Charles tore it open, read the greeting and said, “And I was feeling guilty for the e-card. This is worse.”
I laughed first, he quickly followed — this too is love.
Laura Black (www.laurablack.net) is an attorney, businessperson, author and speaker, who focuses on the challenges of midlife-plus women with humor and affirmation.