I woke, no alarm needed, in the stiff twin bed of my brother’s room to the dark morning and reached for the folder of letters. My back timidly rested on the wooden headboard as I quietly remembered each word addressed to “Dear ?”, reading back through each memory recorded in writing which brought me to this moment poised on the bed, pen in hand. On that hopeful morning of my wedding day, I wrote one last letter to him, this one with a decidedly chosen “Dear Paul” salutation. Happiness filled my heart as I finished out my beautiful gift.
For several years preceding that day, letters to my future husband were my anchor in the ever shifting landscape of singleness from the ages of 16 - 22. Proclamations of faith, hope, and love were scrawled between faint blue lines. I wrote to persevere in chastity. I wrote for a remembrance of the single life. I wrote to plan for details of the future. Mostly, I wrote as an act of love.
My husband’s reaction to this grand romantic gesture left much to be desired. In fact, in the three and a half years we’ve been married, I’ve received a grand total of: “they were really great.”
For the first three years of my marriage, these letters to my future husband, apparently unappreciated by the husband at hand, served as some nagging note of unfinished business. At moments when that green folder of carefully hand-written letters should have been far from my mind, I’ve seen it as some mental post-it note of disappointment for marrying a man who just didn’t get it. Why was it that he couldn’t muster up more words of appreciation?
Lately, I’ve truly realized, it’s me who just didn’t get it.
Getting “it” means loving your spouse for who they are, not who you wish or hope or plan them to be. In some ways, Paul happens to be that mysterious man I addressed during late nights when my heart was aching for a companion. Just as I had written in the letters, we do cook together, walk together, and make plans together. But, luckily, he’s much more than “Mr. ?” ever was.
I could not have predicted my husband’s drive for success or his appetite for technology, his dashing date coordinating skills or his common sense parenting. In my writing, I didn’t mention someone who would teach me how to problem solve or show me how to listen. I didn’t envision a beard or the large laugh or the oldest child in a family of twelve. I didn’t write to someone about his teasing, his zest for knowledge, or his spirited story-telling.
The vocation of marriage requires much more than some delicately crafted letters. Marriage is messy and complicated and downright frightening at times. Clinging to a vision of desired perfection can be quite damaging. Furthermore damaging is cornering our spouses into boxed-up versions of want we think they should be.
My letters of love are now in the working of my hands as I make the bed, the finishing of a project started, the midday text message to say hello, and in the changing of a dirty diaper sans complaint. My words of love are now in the cleaning of my car [before being asked], foot massages, savory steak and potato soup, the bottle of wine for two at home just because, and the problem-solving sessions at the dinner table. My ever-forming letter of love is in my playfulness, my tenderness, my forgiveness, and my patience.
Letters to my future husband “were really great”. They were sweet, kind, and something of a fierce kind of love. However, they were much more about impressing Paul with proof of my love than they were about actually loving. And actual loving must be tailored to fit the actual person. I’m happy to know more of my husband than I did on that morning when I was huddled on the bed, protective over the surrendering of my words, thoughts, hopes, and plans.
Words can be beautiful, but they must be paired with even greater, grander doses of action.