What Love Looks Like To Me (Spoiler Alert: It Involves Ugly Crying, No Makeup, and Some Vomit)

Years ago, before we were married, John and I met a lovely middle-aged couple. Let’s call them Hank and Ethel (chances are the real couple will never happen upon this blog post…but just in case).

Ethel told us, very casually over supper one evening, that Hank had never seen her without makeup.


Um. What now?

Hank would go to bed, turn out the lights, and then Ethel would remove her makeup and crawl in next to him in the dark. The next morning she’d get up before he started stirring – in the dark – to make sure her makeup was in place for the day.

Ethel also birthed four children over the course of their marriage and when her due dates started getting closer, she would simply put on a fresh layer of makeup at night, choosing to sleep with foundation, mascara and eye shadow all neatly in place (the latter being a beauty product I don’t even own!), rather than risk being seen au natural.

Feminists are shuddering in horror but Hank and Ethel had a very happy and contented marriage. Really. Ethel felt most comfortable being seen in makeup – even around her husband – and they simply did what worked for them. It takes all kinds.

But can I just say, I’m so glad I’m married to someone who has seen me at my absolute worst. Over and over and over again.

And he loves me all the more for it.

He always tries to make me laugh and see the lighter side of life, but can also sense when I simply need a shoulder to cry on. And I don’t mean delicate sniffling while clutching my homemade lace handkerchief (an impossibility since I neither do handwork nor do I own a single handkerchief, lacey or otherwise). I mean full-blown guttural ugly-crying guaranteed to leave giant streaks of snot over his shoulder. The kind of sobs that wrack the body from toe to top.

When we learned our unborn baby might be born with severe health challenges, he rocked me time and time again as I cried (daily) during the ensuing stressful months. When our baby was born – miraculously – healthy, he held me as I cried tears of relief and guilt. When I couldn’t nurse our babies (as I so desperately longed to do), he saw my tear-streaked cheeks and my self-perceived “broken” body and loved me more, pulling me close before heading off to heat up a bottle of formula. (Side observation: I do cry a lot.)

Even before those babies came along, when I was in the throes of morning sickness, he would sit beside me as I cradled the toilet. He’d bring cool cloths for my forehead and rub my back as I hurled blueberry muffins after an ill-timed back-road car ride.

That takes love, folks.

In the hospital when I was hooked up to catheters and begging for laxatives (childbirth is a miracle, but it was also incredibly traumatizing and decidedly unnatural for me), he brought glass after glass of ice water.

I’m also now realizing I’ve mostly listed ways motherhood has made me cry and/or vomit (sorry kids; I love you, but I’ve also cried buckets over you). In reality, he’s been there for everything else, too.

He sees me in every state of disarray (see discussion of catheters, vomit, and laxatives above) and isn’t phased in the slightest. He knows how selfish and irrational I can be; he tolerates nitpicking and complaining and my endlessly cold feet and hands (for which he patiently warms up Magic Bags night after night after night). I think it likely goes without saying that he routinely sees me with no makeup.

He knows me and he loves me. And the combination is crucial.

I know people for whom Valentine’s Day is unspeakably hard. People who are widowed or separated or involuntarily single. People who have – or are – struggling with miscarriage or infertility. People grieving the recent death of a parent or friend or child. And I want to acknowledge that Valentine’s Day – like any other major celebration – can represent the hardest of hard days on the calendar.

If you’re reading this today from a place of hurt or loss or grief, I’m so sorry. Life is hard and things don’t always work out the way we’d choose if we got to script our story.

And for this reason, I almost didn’t post anything about love. But then I remembered something I read several years ago:

Don’t take what you have for granted – celebrate it. Don’t apologize for what you have. Be grateful for it and share your gratitude with others. Are your parents healthy? Be thrilled. Let them know how much they mean to you. When you honour what you have, you’re honouring what I’ve lost.

Brené Brown

So today I want to celebrate my husband, especially, but also my children and parents and siblings and friends. For the people who love me and who accept me – flawed as I am. With or without makeup, laughing or crying.

I am grateful for what I have and I hope wherever you are today – whether this is a season of loss and grief or one filled with hope and joy – that you have a chance to pause, reflect, and celebrate the love in your life.

I’ll leave you with a few of my favourite quotes about love and relationships:

The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them. Thomas Merton

Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another: “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.” C. S. Lewis

Friendship is the jelly in the sandwich of marriage. It holds you together on the days when life pulls the plate out from under you. Darlene Schacht

Being in a long marriage is a little bit like that nice cup of coffee every morning. I might have it every day, but I still enjoy it. Stephen Gaines

Love is what makes two people sit in the middle of a bench, even if there is plenty of room at both ends. Unknown

Friends are better than money. Almost anything money can do, friends can do better. In so many ways a friend with a boat is better than owning a boat. Kevin Kelly (*Sadly, we have yet to befriend anyone locally who owns a boat, but we do have a friend/neighbour with a pool, and I can attest to the fact it is way better than owning our own pool.)

When, over the years, someone has seen you at your worst and knows you with all your strengths and flaws, yet commits him– or herself- to you wholly, it is a consummate experience. To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. Timothy Keller

If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you. Winnie–the–Pooh (A. A. Milne)

To my tribe of friends, my little family crew, and especially to John – from the tips of my toes to the top of my head, I love you.

I can almost guarantee there was a potty joke immediately before this shot as it is the only way both kids would simultaneously be so jolly. Sad but true.

PS. He even finds my perpetual head-tilting in pictures…endearing. Good thing as there is a pronounced head tilt in. every. picture.

Header photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

27 thoughts on “What Love Looks Like To Me (Spoiler Alert: It Involves Ugly Crying, No Makeup, and Some Vomit)”

  1. Beautiful post! Sometimes it’s tricky to talk happily about holidays, knowing it’s going to be a hard day for a lot of people. But you did it perfectly. I love the quotes you included, and have to chuckle at the story of “Ethel” and “Hank.” I totally get that it works for them, but I could never be an “Ethel.” Think of the pressure! Anyway… thanks for this post and have a happy Valentine’s Day!

    1. Thanks, Jenny! Happy Valentine’s Day – I know you keep things pretty low-key, too. Regardless hope it’s fun and special in it’s own way.

      In total agreement – I am definitely NOT an “Ethel.”

  2. When we were engaged, I broke my arm and had a kidney stone, both necessitating trips to the ER with my now-husband in the course of about three weeks. I knew, I absolutely knew, that if this man could deal with packing me into a car wearing Eeyore pajama pants, curled over myself in pain, that he could deal with anything. It’s sickness and health for a reason!! Happy Valentine’s Day – I hope you are feeling happy and healthy and loved!

    1. Wow! That was a tough string of bad luck. I actually laughed out loud when I read your note about Eeyore pajamas. Sickness and health, indeed!
      It’s been a nice, albeit very white and cold, Valentine’s Day here.

  3. The description of that couple at the beginning reminds me of Marvelous Mrs. Mazel on Amazon Prime. I think in the first season they showed how she went to bed with make-up and then woke up early enough to put some on before her husband woke up! It seemed like such an over-the-top story line so it’s crazy that you know a real-life couple that did this!

    Phil has absolutely seen me at my worst. And he’s probably seen me in make-up less than he’s seen me without. In fact his joke is “you wear make-up?” Meaning your beauty is such that I thought you naturally looked like this. Pregnancy and child birth are synonymous with seeing your partner at their worst. And it’s an experience that knit us together like nothing else has or ever will, I think.

    Before meeting Phil, I was single more than I was dating and rarely had a Valentine. And yet I liked the holiday more than some of my paired up friends! I used to offer to babysit my nephews on Valentine’s Day and those were some of my best Valentine’s Days. I would get a heart-shaped pizza and let them have as much ice cream and toppings as they’d like. Young children are so great at being affectionate so I felt so very loved by my 2 little Valentine’s! Now I have 3 wonderful little Valentine’s and feel so lucky to have them!

  4. Happy Valentine’s Day to you guys! I like the Stephen Gaines quote above a lot. I tend to get very burned on out any “holidays” post-Christmas…so for me that’s like V-Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter….and have no real desire to decorate/ celebrate too much. I do a little bit, but more out of a sense of obligation/ wanting to do a little SOMETHING for the kids. After Christmas it literally takes me until summertime (maybe around 4th of July for us here in the U.S.?) to start feeling like doing holiday things again- which means come fall season, I’m ready to go again for autumn decor, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. 🙂 Then the cycle repeats!!

    So, I am happy to basically just skip over Valentine’s Day, but I do always put together a little gift bag for each of the boys with a few candy favorites and a little card. I got a heart shaped balloon yesterday for them, too. Some years I have done things for my husband, but this year I literally said, “Ughhhh let’s just skip Valentine’s day!! Too much going on right now… ” With our big trip coming up to europe in less than a month now, this volunteer job I’m doing, upcoming swim meets, etc. I just wasn’t in the mood to try to fit in some big celebration/ gifts/ a big special meal either. I’m thinking maybe tonight I’ll see if he wants to have a glass of wine at our basement bar! That would make it feel special, but extremely low key. We do want to go see the new J. Lo movie, Marry Me, but maybe next week. I’m sure tickets are all sold out for tonight already!

    1. I did…nothing this year. But we were all okay with it. I could sense the kids didn’t expect anything – they didn’t even have any desire to do Valentines for school (which are, admittedly, not really encouraged because of COVID anyway). Every other year I’ve done something – ranging from special meals, to decorations…but it felt nice and special to just wish each other Happy Valentine’s Day without the need to give or make stuff.
      That said, I think I’ll likely jump back on the bandwagon with something next year…

  5. Awh, this is such a feel-good post for Valentines Day 😉 I love all the quotes you highlighted as well as your personal stories. While I don’t wear “full” make-up (on the daily and certainly not to bed, LOL), I almost always have a smudge of eye liner, at the minimum, becasue I don’t want to scare myself with that first glance in the mirror each morning. Truth!!

    1. Ha! I wear minimal makeup, but definitely feel better when I have a little bit on. Same with earrings. I contend any day feels better if I take the time to put on earrings.

  6. Such a lovely post. I love the Brené Brown quote, such wise words. I am sure there are many Ethels in this world and if it makes them happy and their marriage is happy then go for it I say. I think I am the complete opposite to Ethel, I cannot remember the last time I wore make up, probably an event I went to about 15 years ago would be my guess or on my wedding day which was over 20 years ago.

    I love the photo of your family.

    My dad gave me some advice on my wedding day, stay friends, he is so right. I knew that it was good advice as they had been married for 34 years when I got married and are still married now, happily married. My husband is, and has been for all the years we have been together, the best friend I could ever have asked for.

    1. Thanks for the kind words. And “Ethel” was very happy and content with her decision…but I’m definitely not an “Ethel!”

      I know there are many, many types of marriages (including the kind where people feel more comfortable being in makeup all the time), but I love the one we have and we really are the best of friends! I’m so glad you have the same experience (celebrate what we have, right – and I realize we so blessed in this regard)…and sounds like your parents do too!

  7. I followed you “home” from your comment on Life of a Doctor’s Wife. I was hoping you might have posted the soup recipe with sausage and lots of veggies? Do you share recipes? I will have to dig around in your archives.
    Meanwhile, what you did post is quite lovely and I enjoyed reading it. Happy Valentine’s day!

  8. I love this post, Elisabeth. While I am definitely in the “no Ethel” camp (my husband sees me in sweaty gym clothes daily LOL), I do appreciate the mention that couples really have to figure out what works for them (although I do hope that Hank would have loved Ethel just as much without makeup!).

    We don’t really celebrate V-Day around here (I didn’t grow up with it and don’t expect romantic gestures – besides, Jon is the “spontaneous, not scheduled romantic – which I can appreciate :)).

    1. Yup. We’re very low-key with Valentines Day. I’m not an Ethel, but she is lovely and it’s wonderful how we can all forge different styles of relationships that fulfil us! Constant makeup didn’t seem to be any burden to her at all, and I don’t think “Hank” cared in the slightest about the makeup, but supported his wife in feeling confident!

  9. this is soooo lovely. I am also the type that appreciate and feel love on daily small things instead of big gestures like flowers and gifts. It’s really in the daily life that we feel the love. And I also agree that knowing you and loving you to the full extend is what makes it work. So glad to see you’ve found your one and only! 🙂 Life is so much better when it’s shared with your love/partner.

  10. Oh, this is very sweet. I think a relationship is made stronger through seeing each other through difficulties. My mother-in-law used to say to my SIL that a good marriage is all about who you want to watch TV with, which cracks me up. (I don’t watch TV, but my husband does). I think what she meant is that you want someone to be comfortable with. Like a comfy old shoe. Did I just call my marriage an old shoe? Maybe.

    I wear makeup every single day, although obviously not to bed and my husband sees me without makeup every day before and after application, but I kind of feel kinship with Ethel!

    1. An “old shoe” marriage; sounds pretty comfortable and great to me! Maybe comfy jeans or cozy sweater would work too?

      “Ethel” was pretty swell and I think it’s great she was able to identify that it was an important element of the relationship to her!

      That’s an interesting/funny comment about TV. I actually think about how compatible we are in TV/movie watching (for the most part). We tend to like most of the same music and both like art a lot and tend to gravitate toward the same things. We also travel REALLY well together. I think it could be hard to have two different types of travelers but we are really in sync in terms of what we want to prioritize.

  11. Such a sweet tribute. Glad you’ve got a good man on your side, friend.

    Reminds me of some lyrics from a Carpenters song,

    “Funny but it seems that it’s the only thing to do: run and find the one who loves me.”

    1. Tribute! I love that word/sentiment (though it feels vaguely like those sombre montages at the Oscars for dead celebrities?!)
      Endlessly thankful to have you in my life, too, on this Valentine’s Day.

  12. This is so sweet. I love it! Valentine’s Day is a hard day for me as a single person, but I love posts like these that remind me how important love is and how life-changing it can be. <3

    1. Valentine’s Day can be so hard (I think the same on Mother’s Day, which can be such a painful time as well), but hope people use these days as more general reminders of love – if not with a partner than with friends and family that help make life so beautiful!

  13. What a lovely, lovely tribute to, well, love. When someone knows you inside and out, as you say, it’s one of the most comforting things in the world. The trust and the care that goes into sustaining a relationship like that… not everyone has it. I’d argue very few people do.
    Thank you for sharing this with us. )

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