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January 13, 2010

What Love Is

This is a favorite post of mine, written two years ago over at Grim's place. I thought I'd bring it over here as an antidote to the disturbing view of women and relationships put forward by The Futurist and his sources. If you want to read the supporting articles, please visit Grim's place, which has the links.

I still recall the dress I wore to my first dance. It was black with wild roses – pink ones - on it. The empire waistline tied in the back with grosgrain ribbon and the deep, square neckline was trimmed with white lace. My date gave me the most beautiful corsage: pink sweetheart roses and baby’s breath.

I kept the ticket and the corsage for years on a bookshelf in my bedroom. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because it seemed the sort of thing that should be remembered. I don’t think I missed a dance in school and I kept each corsage I was given; even the ugly ones.

Not every boy who asked me out was as adept as that first young man at matching flowers to my outfit and personality. But that didn’t matter. To tell the truth I never really liked corsages, even in high school. They were awkward and clunky and the pins had a nasty way of poking you in the shoulder when you tried to dance or stood up on your tip-toes for that long anticipated good night kiss. But they were tangible reminders that a young man had taken pains to please me, just as I had gone to a great deal of trouble to look nice for him, to make his evening pleasant. Memorable.

And so I kept them, every one. All my yesterdays, pressed between the leaves of my mind like wildflowers from some long forgotten ramble down a country road on a summer’s day. As they slowly faded in their allotted spaces on my bookshelf, they somehow managed to retain traces of their former loveliness; giving off sweet memories of being courted, cherished, of feeling - for the space of few moonlit hours - like a princess in a fairy tale.

Thus it is with some sadness that I wonder: what on earth do today’s would be princesses have to look forward to?

Last month, a boy asked my 16-year-old daughter to his school's homecoming dance. She agreed to go, bought a new dress and made a hairdresser appointment.

The boy never bought tickets to the dance. Neither did his friends. They decided that attending homecoming wouldn't be cool, and instead planned to just dress up that night, go out for dinner and then hang out with their dates at someone's house.

My daughter was disappointed, as were her girlfriends. They would have loved to have been taken to the dance, to show off their dresses, to see and be seen.

At 6 p.m. on the night of the boycotted dance, about a dozen of these girls and their dates gathered in one boy's backyard so a mob of parents could photograph them. I found it dispiriting. My heart went out to those girls -- all dressed up with no place to go.

I live in suburban Detroit, but this phenomenon is playing out elsewhere in the country, too -- a telling example of the indifference with which young people today view dating, chivalry and romance.

Studies, of course, show more young people skipping romantic relationships in favor of "hooking up." As teens socialize in packs, forgo one-on-one dating and trade sex nonchalantly, it is no stretch to find that boys are asking girls to homecoming and not bothering to take them there.

When I was a young girl I recall hearing a song by Peggy Lee on my transistor radio.

“Back in the day”, as my boys are fond of saying with rolled eyes, you couldn’t just summon up a tune any time you felt like it. We didn’t have iPods, playlists, or personal CD players. When it came to that special song that made you dizzy with delight, you were at the mercy of the DJ down at the radio station. You had to wait, sometimes for what seemed like ages, for your favorite song to come onto the airwaves and thrill you to the very marrow of your bones. That’s what made it special: rarity, and the knowledge that you couldn’t hear it any time you wanted to. If you were really, really crazy about a song you might save up and buy the 45, or even the LP. But that took a while. And in the meantime there was the agony of suspense.

I wonder, sometimes, if that is what is missing from modern relationships: the ache of wanting; the knowledge that someone isn’t there just for the taking, the thrill of finally gaining your heart's desire after long uncertainty, a series of delays? Of knowing you might never have had them at all? What happens to our sense of wonder when we take everything for granted, when we are never deprived, when we never take pains?

When nothing is special anymore?

There is something to be said for anticipation. I carried my little transistor radio everywhere, glued to my shell-like ear. I must have known the words to a million songs by heart – I repeated them over and over in my head while waiting for the next time my favorite song would come over the airwaves. I still do. Who does that now? The song was called, “Is that all there is?”

I hated that song with a passion, even then. It asked that question - “Is that all there is?” - about love. It was too cynical and worldly wise for me then and it still is today, forty-odd years later, because no matter how long you walk this earth, you never stop discovering the unending wonder of loving other people, and you never quite do come to know all there is to know about life.


I know that in my bones. There are a million kinds of love, and to me the saddest thing on earth is the cynic who asks, “Is that all there is?” because she has never experienced the delight to be found in pleasing others; who says “Let’s not bother…” celebrating special occasions because he has never been denied anything (and so sees every new experience through a lens of dreary sameness), who doesn’t understand that hooking up or casual sex, though amusing, can never be anything but pale substitutes for what happens when two people really love each other, when making someone else’s heart race a mile a minute is just as satisfying as feeling the earth move yourself. And sometimes more.

I wonder if these children will recognize (or would they be bored by) the quiet, peaceful Sunday morning comfortableness that sneaks up on you when you’ve been together for half a lifetime? When you fit neatly together as though you had been made for each other? That doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years of living, and sometimes years of ups and downs that I sometimes wonder if they will have the patience to wait for?

Love takes many forms. Love is having the faith and the courage to let go when your children need to strike out on their own. Love means trusting in their judgment (and your own long stewardship); it means recognizing that they are no longer babies, but young adults. It means releasing them gently, lovingly, gracefully; though every fiber screams they aren’t ready yet – that they aren’t listening to you, that they will screw things up if you don’t keep a hand on the old tiller. It means not saying “I told you so”, when you did. Again. And again. It means biting your lip, and your tongue, a lot. It means giving them the space to grow, as you did once. Love means standing a bit apart when they come home, though you long to crowd them with questions as you did when they were small; waiting for them to come to you. Loving it when they finally do.

Even though it took years. Boys are a slow crop.

Love means taking pride in the achievements of your friends, sharing their every day triumphs and tribulations, both great and small. Taking satisfaction in their talent, not knowing whether to laugh or cry when one of them writes something so poignant it could have been plucked from the pages of your own life:

Pre-deployment briefs.

Right before Lancelot went on his latest trip, he reminded me that the Dark Prince was coming home on Friday. I must have had a blank look on my face because he then reminded me why: Dark Prince's pre-deployment brief the following day. A brief that I would have to attend with my son without my husband.

Looking back, I'm now of the opinion that my husband planned to be out of town so as to avoid the whole nightmare....

For starters, my son is not very skilled in the social graces. Some might even assume that he was raised by wolves. Arriving at the brief, it began.

"Mom, I have to go talk to someone."
Me: "Oh, okay, I'll be right here."

This, in case you didn't know, is his way of avoiding even the admittance that he has a mom (let alone introducing her).

Nope, not the Dark Prince, he was hatched from an egg.

Love means thanking God for them when they aggravate you, and when they make you laugh, when they lift you up. What would we do without friends? They make the sun come out when all the world seems grey and cloudy. They say things that make you cry. And laugh out loud. Sometimes in the same breath:

A house isn't a home until you can write "I love you" in the dust. I just ask that you don't date it.

I like that. But for a military wife home can never be a place, really, or a time. Times change, and even the people we meet are often far less constant than they appear to be. But somehow, friends are a gleaming thread running through the hopelessly tangled skein of our lives. Pull on it, and everything suddenly slips into place effortlessly; all the snarled knots come untied. They know, without our having to tell them, certain things about us. We share, not everything – because no two people share everything – but the important things. A friend will be there to celebrate quietly with you those moments that mean something to you. And that can make all the difference, for then you carry home inside of you wherever you may roam.

Because home, you see, is the people you care about. A home is love.

I am sitting here in Georgia with The Burrito in my lap. He is one week old. My son’s house is full of light, and warmth, and love. The Burrito is mostly full of milk. His eyes are very heavy and he is making comical faces as he falls asleep in my arms. Across the room, my son is talking quietly to his wife. I like watching him with her. He loves her very much. I am thinking of what I will write to my husband in the morning. The scene around me is proof that families do evolve – they have so much more than we did, starting out. But then they are a good ten years older than we were when we had our first child. I am also thinking of ten years ago, when I was convinced the young man across the room from me was a complete bonehead and wasn’t listening to a word his mother had to say.

He is a fine young man, a good father, and an even better husband. I am proud.

And The Burrito totally rules.


Update: I love this essay.

Posted by Cassandra at January 13, 2010 01:01 AM

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There are many types of love.

If we're lucky, we get to experience more than one of them.

Posted by: camojack at January 13, 2010 03:43 AM

Agreed. The total love and trust of a child, the love of a cocky teenager who would rather die than admit he loves his parents, the love of parents and grandparents, and extended family.

Husband and wife and their love for their children. It is all good, because love means you grow...together and then apart to grow with someone else.

Give your little grandson a squeeze from us.

Posted by: Cricket at January 13, 2010 08:55 AM

I just wrote a song about love for my girlfriend and I thought I would find lyrics on your blog so that I can compare my song :P but anyhoo... you're blog is wayy nicer than mine that's for sure! If you have the extra 3 minutes to listen to the song I wrote that's on youtube, click here A Song About Love and dont forget to rate and comment the song! :) thanx SOOOOOO much! :D

Posted by: Yoel Engel at January 13, 2010 12:38 PM

This is why you're one of my daily reads.

I read the Futurist's article, and I periodically stop into Dr. Helen's blog -- and I'm invariably stunned by the level of bitterness by the guys there, who (to be fair) in many cases have been badly burned.

And every time I visit, I can't help but thank God for the incredible woman I married almost 30 years ago. Which is not to say that every day is a bowl of cherries -- like any two people who share a home for any length of time, we have our moments, and we've even been known to escalate to the theater nuclear level.

But against that, we have three decades of shared memories and experience; three decades of shared silliness and romance; three decades and a rich repertoire of inside jokes and little comforting rituals; three decades of knowing -- KNOWING -- that each will always be there for the other, no matter what.

And that smile -- even now, after all these years, seeing that face makes my pulse quicken and my heart melt. She represents the noblest, wisest part of myself; she's the reason I sweat and toil in the day-to-day world, and that smile is my reward for doing so. And I believe, to the very deepest fibre of my being, that she is the greatest thing that ever happened to me.

Which is why I can never truly identify with the bitter folk on the blog. Women like my beloved bride are rare (see Proverbs 31:10-31) -- but the rewards for finding someone like her are beyond imagining.

Abandon the search before it's complete, or never even start it to begin with? I can't conceive of a more barren, lonely existence -- even in the middle of a crowd.

And ditto Cricket -- enjoy your grandson.

Posted by: scottkellyfa711 at January 13, 2010 12:57 PM

Beautiful post. Agree with what you wrote.

Posted by: retriever at January 13, 2010 01:41 PM


What a lovely tribute to your wife! You made my day :)

I have always loved the phrase, "my better half". I think that's what marriage does - yoke you with someone whose qualities and skills complement your own. I not be even 1/4 of the person I am, were it not for my husband. He inspires me to be a better person and I've learned so much from him.

I'll bet your lovely wife would say the same thing about you.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 13, 2010 01:51 PM

Thank you for re-posting this. Love is definitely worth waiting for and nuturing.

Posted by: Sarah at January 13, 2010 02:04 PM

Reading this makes me want to cry, for all that I have missed out on in my life of (unwanted) singleness...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at January 13, 2010 03:04 PM

Nice essay. Sadly, I have nothing to remember...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at January 13, 2010 04:40 PM

Cass -- I hope so, anyway. One of our inside jokes is that I need to be the one to take the trash out, so as to ensure I'm not in it. ;)

Some friends of ours once gave us a pair of t-shirts; hers said "Better Half" and mine carried the two words that every guy of the male persuasion should know: "Yes Dear." During a lengthy stay in England for a client engagement where I was fortunate enough to be able to bring her along, I would wear the Yes Dear shirt to the sewing and quilting exhibits she enjoyed in the English countryside; it was greeted with almost universal mirth by the women in attendance, much to the delight of the Cute Girl.

OBTW, here's the smile I was referring to:

Posted by: scottkellyfa711 at January 14, 2010 08:31 AM

Cassandra a beautiful post. But just as you kept the flowers on a shelf for a long time, young men remember their first encounter(s) with someone they cared about. That's not always whom they marry--because marriage may come well down the road. But it is wonderful when you finally find someone to share your life with.

Posted by: Mike Myers at January 14, 2010 09:17 PM

I read the original post two years ago - and wept then. I wept again reading it today. Beautifully said, the truth has a way to the marrow of the bone. Glad to see it is one of your favorites, as it has been one of mine.

The Burrito must be walking and talking a storm by now. My mother always said that grandchildren were wonderful because you could finally love without all the responsibility, which is why my children adore her to this day, long years since she is gone.

That, too, is love.

Posted by: Kathy at January 15, 2010 11:42 AM

Glad you guys enjoyed it. I always feel kind of weird reposting older essays.

Yes, The Burrito is very big now. He looks like a little boy now - most of the baby is gone. It really brings back memories of watching my own boys grow up in stages. It's so wonderful when they are small and they can't get enough kisses and hugs from Mommy.

Doesn't last forever though. Before you know it, they're busy and don't have time for all that nonsense :p You have to settle for making them laugh, or a quick ruffle of the hair in passing. I used to sneak into their rooms at night just so I could give them a small kiss on the cheek.

Gotta catch 'em unawares!

Posted by: Cassandra at January 15, 2010 12:59 PM


She is beautiful. Thanks so much for sharing :)

Posted by: Cassandra at January 15, 2010 01:00 PM

was beautiful imagery running through your piece, and your writing
voice is Amazing.  

I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.  I agree with the part where
you mention letting the child go, even though you know they are not
ready.  I have never had children, its just me and my wife;
but I have counseled grown men, on ministry occasions, to do just
exactly as you described.  From their reactions at the time, I
know it must not be an easy thing - letting go.  

Perhaps they feel like letting go of the reins, is the same as taking
part in their predictable demise?  

I coached the fathers to - just be their friend, and you will see your
relationship grow.  Give a little grace...and you can get a
little grace.  Beautiful story!   
Kenneth McDonald

Posted by: Prophetic Ministry at January 17, 2010 12:19 AM

Perhaps they feel like letting go of the reins, is the same as taking
part in their predictable demise?

It might be so for men. For me, I think there were two things going on:

1. So long as you know you have time left to finish raising your children, you don't worry quite so much about making mistakes (either of omission or commission) in their upbringing. But when you see that day when they will leave the nest rapidly approaching, you suddenly think, "Did I do enough? Did I do a good enough job?"

2. Not being needed anymore. If your children are independent, will they still love you even though they no longer need you?

I think this is a big one for women. Just as a man's career is a huge part of who he is, being a mother is an enormous part of a woman's self image. Losing that role is hard, but hopefully you are easing into a different role in your children's lives.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 17, 2010 01:01 PM

Great read! Romance really is a lost art. Heartbreaking really...kids don't know what they're missing. My memories are full and rich like yours and I reflect on them often.

Posted by: anoukane at January 20, 2010 10:18 AM