I don’t know what you think of Valentine’s Day, or love, or relationships, or marriage for that matter. I’m married to a man who has loved me for twenty years. We’ve been married for eighteen of those. He’s loved me when he liked me a lot, and he’s loved me when he could hardly stand to be around me. He’s loved me well, and he loves me still. And I have loved him the same. Through the thick of it and the thin of it, and all that has been in between.

It’s Valentine’s Day, and this is what I’ve learned from twenty years of loving a man.

In the beginning, I thought a relationship was about balance. Give a little, take a little. Make adjustments. But balance is a hard thing to maintain, and if balance is my goal, I’m never really there. The scale keeps shifting, a little one way and then rocking back the other. And the struggle becomes about fairness or equality or something, and it is never quite realized. Striving for balance causes tension, I think. It’s tippy. It’s an illusion.

Instead, I have determined, I will work toward strength.

Did you know this? In Genesis, where it talks about the ‘helpmeet’, the Hebrew is not just ezer, but ezer kenegdo, which literally means ‘the help that opposes’. The rabbis explain this term like two posts of equal weight leaned against one another. They stand because of equal force. (source)

The help that opposes. I am in love with that image. I see strength and support and two-being-better-than-one in that image. I see roof trusses and doorway arches and bridges that span dangerous heights in that image. I see old trees leaning against each other in a forest, supporting each other as they sink toward their final rest.

After twenty years of loving a man, this is what I’ve learned. It’s a leaning toward each other. It’s leaning in to hear the whisper, to really look into his eyes. It’s my cheek snuggled into his neck, a fitting together. It’s leaning into him when he comes home from work, and his arms around me pulling me in. Breathing me in. It’s my tears on his face, and his words in my ear.

It’s a slow dance.

It’s the help that opposes.

It’s tilting, leaning, supporting so that neither falls, and both are strengthened.

After twenty years, this is what I’ve learned.

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Besides being Valentine’s Day, today is Tuesday and this post is my contribution to the My Dad and Me blog series. This summer, Mom and Dad will celebrate fifty years of marriage. Wouldn’t you love to know what Dad has learned about love in those fifty years? Maybe he’ll share that with us next Tuesday when it is his turn to write.

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