A few days before Christmas, our daughter asked me: How did you know [Mom] was The One?
[Now, this young woman is not our biological daughter. She’s not even really adopted–she came to us when she was eighteen, five or six years ago. But we’ve claimed her, and she us, and we can’t imagine our family without her now.]
She’s in her first serious relationship (that I know of), so I halfway expected the question. But I was unprepared for it to come to me; I assumed my wife would be fielding that one. I stammered something about a bad day with her in my life being better than a good day without her, and we headed home. It wasn’t a very good answer–it’s one of those pat responses you’ve heard so many times it’s cliche.
So my brain latched onto the question as I searched for more to give her, but I came up with nothing. After almost seventeen years of marriage, loving my wife has become such a habit that I really can’t remember how I first knew she was The One.
Later that day, I warned my wife to be expecting the question, and we talked about the conversation. The simplicity and brilliance of my wife’s response, as usual so much more thoughtful than my own, just about floored me: Love, she said, is a decision. You decide to love someone, and they decide to love you, and you decide every day to keep loving them.
And in spite of everything Hollywood tells us about birds chirping and bells and fireworks and romantic music and moments of revelation and the perfection of true love, she’s absolutely right. Oh, those things are there, sometimes, but they usually come after–first, there’s a moment we decide this person’s happiness is more important to us than our own. If we’re lucky, they decide the same, and birds chirp and bells ring and fireworks light up the sky in our hearts.
That’s where the work begins. Because now we have to make that person’s happiness more important than our own, whether we feel like it or not, in sickness and health, for richer or poorer, for better or worse. Not just once, but every day from now until we decide differently, or until death do we part.
It’s not always an easy decision. We don’t succeed every day. Some days, our own happiness is more important, or something else seems more important still. When that happens, we have to decide again the next day. Success, a lifetime of love, comes when both of us decide more days than not that our partner’s happiness is more important than our own.
It takes courage to make that decision, day after day. But courage and love are closely related. Each makes the other possible. And both hinge on the decisions we make, day after day.