This year marks the 13th Valentine’s Day that Dave and I have been together. If you asked me at 28 whether we’d be together more than a decade later, I would’ve thrown my hands in the air and shrugged. He was an amazing man at 28. Even more so at 41. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it takes for partnerships to survive time and grief and heartbreak. Dave and I have definitely had our share of all of that and more. I remember the marriage advice we got as an engaged couple. “Don’t go to bed angry.” (We’ve broken that so many times). Take deep breaths when you’re in arguments. (We are two Scorpios. We often are the match and fuel for the fire in 2.5 seconds.) None of the advice ever made any sense except for one: keep pursuing each other. I thought that meant that we were to encourage the person we fell in love with and pursue them whole heartedly – but what happens when your identity changes with each big milestone, event and identity shift?

It made me look to relationships from my ancestors. A few years ago, my mother sent me two boxes of pictures and letters from my great grandparents and grandparents. Unknowingly, Dave and I were married on the same date as my great grandfather and grandmother, something that I wasn’t aware of until our first anniversary. I’ve always felt a pull to Nana, my great grandmother, so I often dig back through her box of keepsakes when I have questions I alone can’t answer. 

I opened those boxes a few days ago, searching for clues for my memoir draft and stumbling upon letters written by my grandpa to my grandma when he was in the Korean War, and from my great-grandfather to my Nana. Both marriages lasted decades, through cancer scares and growing families, through heart transplants and caretaking for elementary school-aged kids and parents at the same time. What made their partnership so unique that it lasted?

I pulled out letters from my great-grandfather at different periods of their life together. One was right after they were married. Another was from just after Nana gave birth to my grandma. Another about ten years later as they were considering a move to another state. My great-grandfather, a man I never met, was a beautiful writer and eloquent speaker. 

As I laid them side-by-side, one line kept jumping out:

“I see you as you are now.”  

Not “I see you as you were when we were married before the baby and before your mom moved in with us and life happened.” Not “I wish we could go back to when things were uncomplicated.”  It’s seeing her – really noticing her as she was in that moment, knowing that there was a lot going on behind the scenes of that complicated, graceful, kind woman. 

My nana loved a million lifetimes within one, and I’ve noticed in pictures how she shape shifted with every one. But what a gift to be seen as you are and loved. That’s all we can ever hope for. And the trick of it all – that great-grandpa’s love for her was a reflection in her love for herself. Her care of her own ambitions and needs. Her honesty and candor with my grandmother. Great-grandpa was the blueprint of loving someone as they are without trying to change them, fully realizing that they’ll change over time on their own. 

It’s a lesson in love and commitment that comes alongside boundaries, a way to honor yourself with compassion while compassionately providing perimeters and frameworks of how to show up fully for yourself and others. It’s a challenge for me to love someone as they are without trying to wish things were different at times. It’s an intentional pursuit of seeing each other as we are, believing that we are all doing the best we can. 

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