The first time I saw my husband, I was 16 years old.
He was walking down the hallway of our high school. I didn’t know who he was, but I couldn’t stop staring at his long, luxurious, 90s skater hair swishing back and forth as he walked.
At the time, I didn’t feel much of anything other than hair envy.
But a year or so later, a mutual friend told me she knew of a boy she wanted me to meet. I was just about to turn 18 years old.
At 18, I was uncomfortable with the idea of a set up. I felt like I was always kind of bordering on ‘nerd’ and he was the type of guy I would normally never seek out. He hung out with a crowd that seemed a little rough around the edges. They didn’t care about skipping classes and carried beer around in their backpacks to drink late at night at some local park. But I decided to just go with it.
We went on a group date to laser tag. (Ah, to be 18 again.) And we said about two words to each other all night. It wasn’t until a week later that my friend told me he had asked her “What’s up with that chick?” that I knew he remembered me. And that was it. He had me at “that chick”. (Be still my heart. The 18-year old romance. It’s too much.) The rest is history.
Actually, that’s not true.
The truth is—we fell in love at 18, yes. But we’ve had our fair share of rough times over the past 20 years together. It hasn’t been a great love story out of the movies. It’s been real life.
We’ve struggled through long, late nights up with the kids when they’re sick. Tired and grubby, trying to remember how we looked when we were 18. Our text messages to each other have been about daycare pick-ups and laundry that needs to be moved over, rather than movies we want to see and restaurants we need to check out. We’ve been stressed out over the kids not eating. Arguing about how we parent. Resentful and exhausted and silently keeping tabs on who does more than the other.
But the truth is also this. We’ve been lucky enough to find a way to grow up together. We’ve learned how to co-parent our three children together. We’ve remained friends. We’ve had to navigate getting older, our differing interests, our goals, our personalities—all while being a team.
“So this is real love,” I’ve often thought to myself.
When I was younger, I struggled with the idea that we would never experience ‘dating around’. I worried we would reach our 40s and think something had been missing from our lives. Now, as I get closer and closer to 40, I have the benefit of age and experience with me. And I know with no doubt that I have absolutely everything I could ever want or need in him.
So this is real love.
I have a partner. A true and honest friend. Someone who loves me just as I am, not the person I think I should be or wish I was. A fantastic father to our daughters. I have someone who may make fewer grand romantic gestures, but who shows me true, full love every day. In the way he checks in with me. The way he stops me from rushing around the kitchen, getting food for the kids, just so he can give me a kiss. In the way he reaches for my hand while we sit on the couch at night, watching TV quietly because we’re exhausted. In the way we can enjoy the easy silence.
He has changed countless diapers, cleaned up goldfish crumbs, braided hair, told stories with all the voices. He’s unloaded dishes, changed sheets after late-night accidents, cleaned up puke and carried tired toddlers to bed. He’s watched me do it all, too. Seen me at my worst. And yet, when I look at the way he watches me, I see nothing but love in his eyes.
So this is real love.
For 20 years, he’s had my back. He’s done it all for us.
When we were 18 years old, we met up for our second date over coffee. I remember watching his face, the way he smiled, how quiet he was. He was strong and silent. I never could have predicted being 38 years old, married to that same boy, with three children.
Now I look at that same face and see more grey whiskers in his beard, creases around his eyes, placed there by time.
But I mostly see real life.
And so much real love.