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