We hadn’t been dating long when I popped a question. “How can I show you that I love you better?” I chirped bravely to my boyfriend as we sped down the freeway at sunset. While it wasn’t the question, give me credit: it’s a hard question to ask. Because what if I was bad at love?
Indeed, love was nowhere on my resume.
After a myriad of short-lived, ambiguous dating trysts in my early twenties, relationship failure was a part-time profession for me. I knew all the wrong things to do. But to really love, to set my vulnerable heart out for review, was all part of a risk I hadn’t yet made in all my calculated attempts at intimacy.
Not long into dating this guy though, I realized two things: One, This relationship feels different, better. And two, Oh no! I have no idea what I’m doing.
I started reading, naturally, trying to catch up on the tried and true relational tactics I’d missed out on before. I downed the classics: Love and Respect by Dr. Emmerson Eggerichs, and Dr. John Gray’s Men are from Mars. I really, finally, wanted to be good at love.
Reading instilled the theories of love, but I had to try them out in real life. This was inevitably the tricky part. It felt like my first trip to Mexico, mouthing choppy, beginner Spanish, awkwardly formal, trying to translate quickly in my head. Until you speak speak the language fluently, it’s exhausting. I think love feels just about the same sometimes.
He thoughtfully replied to my question a few moments later. He valued respect, he answered, and overall I was displaying my love in a way he could feel. Relief.
As we continued, we extracted the truth from each other about how best to selflessly demonstrate love through the love languages. We discovered he received loved though acts of service, I gulped up my love through quality time, and we shared words of affirmation in common. Oh good. That one would be easy.
In premarital counseling, we worked through conflict, finances and sex. Tears and fears rose to the surface, and we created plans for everything. The hard work surely over, we felt confident when we heard the rumor, “The first year is the hardest.” Grinning smugly to ourselves, we knew: these rules did not apply to us. The pain of misunderstanding undoubtedly aside, my boyfriend became my husband one year later.
Two months into our marriage, trouble brewed in paradise. I didn’t feel loved, and I felt trapped by a fear that I would never get what I needed. After a few nights of tearful breakdowns, I attempted to articulate what I wanted so badly. Marriage changed me, not only in my marital status, but in my love languages. Overnight, I turned into a girl with a touch love language. I needed more than a high five and a compliment. I needed physical contact.
This discovery eased the drama some, but there was more to work out. We had to be brave, to let the other know when we didn’t feel loved so we could talk about the behavior and change something. It was the work of vulnerability, terrifying and authentic. But the safety in the walls around our marriage strengthened, and I knew I could trust him to care about what mattered to me.
After five years of marriage, the question remains as essential and poignant as the night years ago in the car: Am I loving well? Although the answer stings at times, it is a trustworthy means of clearing the debris from the path to intimacy.