I never really dated.
It wasn’t intentional, by any means. It just… never happened.
By the time that I turned 24, I had only had a few pseudo-maybe-on-their-way-to-a-relationship dalliances. You know the kind. You’re feeling the feelings, flirting uncontrollably, dating without “official" dates, questioning every touch and word and look... but you still haven’t had “the talk.” The one that answers the question: What are we?! I had my fair share of those uncertain flirtations, each of which ended in sadness and ambiguity. With each painful ending, I swore that, the next time, I would be better at having “the talk” earlier.
It might have been the dearth of official relationships (never had I ever had a real argument with a boyfriend) or the vast number of romantic comedies and love stories that I inhaled voraciously, but I truly believed that, when that magical relationship came around, I would be the perfect girlfriend. I would know exactly what to say. He would know how to care for me instinctively. Fights? What fights? In the land-o’-romantic-fantasy that I had built up in my head (which looked a lot like the good parts of a Nicholas Sparks novel), my future relationship was idyllic and lasting, drama-free and always, always satisfying.
Spoiler alert: I was wrong.
Five years ago, I began dating my now-husband, P. Even that didn't feel like dating, more like a best-friends-in-love, feels-so-natural falling. In that time, we’ve made it through nearly two years of long-distance and approximately a billion and a half hours on Skype, a move halfway across the country to create our first home together, three 1,300 mile road trips and the adoption of two new pets (bringing our total up to a chaotic and cuddly three). Together, we've experienced moments of deep, deep grief and mourning, family stress and health scares, half a dozen job changes and a year of wedding planning.
It has been messy and challenging and anything but idyllic.
It has also been more beautiful and transformative and joyful than I could have possibly imagined.
I thought I would be the perfect partner. I was so, so wrong. As it turns out, even in the arms of a healthy relationship, I am highly emotional and sometimes irritable, irrationally critical of myself and consistently struggle at asking for what I need. I can get clingy and distant simultaneously, and I have a penchant for pulling away physically when I am hurt emotionally.
I am deeply imperfect.
And, after 5 years together, I married a man who, like me, is also flawed.
You would think that our matched imperfections would tear us apart and send us riding on the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse into the relationship-hell of contempt and criticism, defensiveness and darkness.
But, instead, my cracks and flaws, in concert with his and catalyzed by love, have become home to growth and joy and affection.
Don’t get me wrong, it has not been easy. It has been a dance, albeit one where I often feel like I’m clumsily moving with two left feet, a dance to give and take and learn to love each other’s (and our own) imperfections. I’ve had to lay down the armor of expectation and obligation, to remove the filter of illusion, and to unwind my story of what love should look like.
I have had to listen to my partner when he calls me out on my self-limiting behaviors and attempts to distance myself. In turn, I’ve had to lovingly remind him to listen carefully to the stories he tells himself and to identify the patterns that pull us apart. We’ve screwed up and made up, snapped in irritation and apologized.
From it all, we’ve learned how to speak and receive feedback and love and forgiveness, to focus on joy, and to fight for connection in the midst of the pressure of stress and circumstance.
Oh, and to apologize. Dear god, have we learned how to apologize.
I thought that perfection was the goal, that a well-lived life looked like the last 10 minutes of a romantic comedy, all coming-together and joy and affection. The truth is that a well-lived life (and a well-lived love) looks a hell of a lot like wrestling in the mud: the mess and the memories, the slip-ups and the playful laughter all rolled into one.
I thought I would be the perfect partner. Turns out, I’m not. Neither is he.
Today, we are celebrating my sweet, sweet husband's birthday. Moments like these always make me reflect in gratitude. Today, I'm grateful for our imperfections, those spaces that we've intentionally filled up with love and learning. In learning how to release my expectations for perfection...
I've somehow stumbled upon magic.