Love. Was there ever a more fascinating or exciting topic? As humans we are so fortunate to have a subject that can be analyzed and debated as endlessly as love is. We will surely never be bored. This Valentine’s Day I am focused on the transformative power of love: its ability to change us, as well as our ability to change the meaning of love.

When you wake up one day and discover you’re married to a new person, you spend a lot of time thinking about what attracted you to that person in the first place. It’s different than a gradual change, the kind that happen after years of marriage and various stressors and experiences. This is an immediate, drastic shift. For me, it happened long before I ever had the chance to get comfortable or settled in my marriage. When I think about the future, I am struck by the realization that I will spend far more years married to the new TC than I ever was married to or dating the old one.

If this was a typical Valentine’s Day, I’d probably have expected a few things: flowers picked up on TC’s commute home, reservations at a nice restaurant in DC, a lovely card signed by both TC and Jack proclaiming me the greatest wife/mother ever. With all that’s going on, my expectations were minimal this year. Truthfully, I have eaten enough chocolate and received enough flowers in the past six months to keep me satisfied for several years. There really isn’t anything I could think of to request, nor would I have presumed to receive anything from a man who is slowly relearning the art of text messaging and calculating 20% tips.

In thinking deeply about the man I married, there is no singular thing I loved or valued the most. There were a thousand disparate qualities and factors that, when put together, assembled the man I would have custom designed myself. Looking at TC today, I realize many of these qualities still hold true. He is still loving, hard working, thoughtful, and ambitious. Other qualities are gone. At least for now.

In some moments he looks like his old self: handsome, intently focused, and poised. In others, he looks like a stranger. I strain to detect the features that were once so familiar to me. I try to imagine away the side of his forehead that has atrophied after so many invasive surgeries. And then I ask myself how much TC’s perfect forehead really factored into the love between us.

At the risk of admitting superficiality, I really enjoyed having a good looking, gregarious husband. It was lovely (albeit, completely unappreciated) to be married to someone who could make conversation with anyone, stay out all night, help manage my crazy life, and figure out a German train schedule. TC today can’t do any of these things, but it does not deter him from trying.

As we grocery shop together and he asks me to turn away so that he can choose a card for me and sneak it into our cart, I ponder how his limitations have transformed our love. Does the card mean less because he wasn’t able to procure it himself? Does it mean more because he still went to the effort?

Heartbreak is a dual experience. It’s both painful and exquisitely beautiful. It’s what I felt as I overheard him on the phone trying to make Valentine’s Day dinner reservations last week. The words involved in time and date are perhaps the most confused in his speech. He says “year” when he means “hour.” He says “Saturday” when he means “today.” The act of making a dinner reservation is nothing short of courageous, and yet he tried. My heart broke as I heard him struggle to recall his telephone number and then leapt as I began to process the thought and humility indicative in this gesture.

It’s easy to be in a relationship with someone when things are going well. It’s when your vision or previous notions of love are questioned that things take a sharp turn. How would your love transform in the absence of the pretty face you once knew? Could you love someone with such unusual capacities to return your love? Could you find joy in the smallest and simplest of gestures? Does love end when the people involved change or does it simply evolve? And if your loved one was suddenly unable to meet the expectations you once held, would it be possible to transform yourself and embrace a new definition of love?

For me, the concept of love continues to hold more questions than it does answers. But at the root of these questions is a very deep reflection of the relationship you hold with yourself, the one that allows you to adapt, regroup, and find pleasure in any kind of love.

A quiet moment over Thanksgiving –
3 weeks after TC came home

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