Photo: Courtney Davidson
My wife and I dated for nearly eight years before deciding to tie the knot three years ago. I've had lots of time to reflect on what works for us, and what I can tell you about love is that (to use one of my wife's least favorite phrases) it's a process, one that's aided considerably by the following traits. Some of them are things she does deliberately, and others are things I just happen to find endearing. There's no magic set of things you can do to maintain and grow a relationship, but what makes these traits meaningful to me is that they're all authentic expressions of her self and values. None of them are terribly important on their own, but they remind me daily of why I asked her to marry me in the first place.
1. She gives me space.
Sometimes the best thing for your relationship is what you don't do. My wife and I each need time to ourselves, both because of the kinds of work we do and because we each need personal down time to unwind. The best way for her to support my work and mental health is sometimes to leave me be, and I try to return the favor and not interrupt her when she's writing, too.
2. She lets me get away for a couple of days.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder they say, and sometimes there's nothing like a long car trip with the guys to make you long for the company of your partner. I realize this list doesn't sound super-romantic so far, but long-term relationships do not consist entirely of splendors and grand romantic gestures. Sometimes they're more like a backcountry trail that reveals its treasures intermittently between periods of walking uphill.
3. She's usually right.
My wife does her research. She's not prone to casually spouting off about things she knows nothing of. She has opinions, some of them quite strongly held, but they're informed opinions. Not to get all Machiavellian, but both people in a relationship need their partner to be an asset and not a liability. Of course, we're all liabilities sometimes, and love means taking care of your partner when they're sick, hurt, or just a bit too tipsy. But you also can't expect yourself to support a partner who consistently makes harmful decisions. I'm very happy to be with someone who carefully researches her options and brings evidence to our decision-making conversations.
4. She talks me into doing things.
When my wife suggested we travel to a major American city to participate in a mass protest, my initial reaction was roughly “I don't see how it helps the cause for us to get abused by police.” It turned out to be an inspiring event that led me to change my behaviors in some important ways, and I'm thankful we went. I'm lucky to have a partner who's willing to push against my inertia and get me out of the house in spite of my apprehensions.
5. She doesn't let me get away with sh*t.
Although I usually don't appreciate it at the time, in the grand view I'm really thankful that my wife lets me know when I'm slipping up. This gives me an opportunity to see my role in our relationship more clearly, and make adjustments where necessary.
6. She argues for her beliefs.
They aren't always the most pleasant conversations at the time, but my wife is willing to disagree with me and defend her perspectives with reference to a great deal of evidence, which means that, even if I don't share her perspective on every issue, I at least have a more complex understanding than I did before we talked.
7. She understands that we have different tastes.
My wife is never going to be into the Grateful Dead, and that's OK. You are not obligated to like everything your partner likes, but you are somewhat obligated to put up with them liking it, and that might mean listening to a Grateful Dead show now and then, although I try to hold up my end of the bargain by not exposing her to things she doesn't care for, especially after she was such a sport at the Phil and Friends show.
8. She gets dressed up.
We've been together for years and have seen each other naked thousands of times, but my wife still keeps track of my tastes in shoes, clothes, makeup, and hair, and incorporates my preferences into her personal style.
9. She gets undressed.
My wife likes to go around the house naked, and while it's not for my benefit, I nevertheless enjoy it.
10. She's kind.
When I see her take time to play with the cats or share kind words with a friend on the street, I'm reminded again of what a compassionate person she is.
11. She chills the wine.
Falling in love again is easier over a glass of wine, especially one that's been put in the fridge earlier that day by a spouse who knows it's going to be appreciated after a day at work.
12. She carves up the slopes.
It's not the skiing itself, but seeing her excel at something she loves doing makes her very attractive coming down the mountain in her ski gear. If my wife was passionate about playing the drums, I'd probably fall in love with her again watching her pound the skins.
13. She grows plants.
Like seeing her being kind to animals, seeing her out in the yard or on the porch in her floppy hat taking care of our plants, many of which she sprouted from seeds or rescued from roadsides, reminds me of how caring she is and makes me adore her even more.
14. She loves chocolate.
I'm not sure why, but I find this endlessly endearing.
15. She takes walks with me.
If you're looking to fall in love again, you could do worse than to take a walk by a river on a crisp evening while the sun pours its late afternoon light all over everything. Maybe if you're really lucky you'll hold hands and have an informed argument.